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Open Access Research

A qualitative study of the aspirations and challenges of low-income mothers in feeding their preschool-aged children

Allison N Herman, Khushi Malhotra, Gretchen Wright, Jennifer O Fisher and Robert C Whitaker*

Author Affiliations

Department of Public Health, Center for Obesity Research and Education, Temple University, 3223 North Broad Street, Suite 175, Philadelphia, PA, 19140, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:132  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-132

Published: 16 November 2012

Abstract

Background

The prevalence of obesity among preschool-aged children has increased, especially among those in low-income households. Two promising behavioral targets for preventing obesity include limiting children’s portion sizes and their intake of foods high in solid fats and/or added sugars, but these approaches have not been studied in low-income preschoolers in the home setting. The purpose of this study was to understand the contextual factors that might influence how low-income mothers felt about addressing these behavioral targets and mothers’ aspirations in feeding their children.

Methods

We recruited 32 English-speaking women in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who were eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and who were the biologic mothers of children 36 to 66 months of age. Each mother participated in 1 of 7 focus groups and completed a brief socio-demographic questionnaire. Focus group questions centered on eating occasions, foods and drinks consumed in the home, and portion sizes. Each focus group lasted 90 minutes and was digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. Three authors independently identified key themes and supporting quotations. Themes were condensed and modified through discussion among all authors.

Results

Thirty-one mothers identified themselves as black, 15 had a high school education or less, and 22 lived with another adult. Six themes emerged, with three about aspirations mothers held in feeding their children and three about challenges to achieving these aspirations. Mothers’ aspirations were to: 1) prevent hyperactivity and tooth decay by limiting children’s sugar intake, 2) use feeding to teach their children life lessons about limit setting and structure, and 3) be responsive to children during mealtimes to guide decisions about portions. Especially around setting limits with sweets and snacks, mothers faced the challenges of: 1) being nagged by children’s food requests, 2) being undermined by other adults in the family, and 3) having bad memories from childhood that made it hard to deny children’s food requests.

Conclusions

Although the primary aspirations of low-income mothers in feeding their preschool-aged children were not focused on children’s weight, these aspirations were compatible with obesity prevention strategies to limit children’s portion sizes and their intake of solid fats and/or added sugars.

Keywords:
Feeding; Child; Preschool; Obesity; Parenting; Eating behavior; Qualitative evaluation