Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

DiLalla, David


The U.S. toxic food environment has impacted the increased rates of childhood obesity and disordered eating patterns (Battle & Brownell, 1996), and prevention efforts are beginning to take an ecological approach to addressing these weight-based problems. Researchers have begun to discuss the importance of starting prevention efforts during infancy and early childhood (Flynn et al., 2006; Olstad & McCargar, 2008). Caregivers and parents have the most impact on child eating and activity levels during early development, but there is scarce research on ways to engage parents in programming. The present study used a qualitative design to investigate parents' experiences receiving, making meaning of, and applying sociocultural messages about children's health and nutrition. Individual interviews were conducted with parents from 16 very low-income Early Head Start families. Interview transcripts, field notes, documentary evidence, and follow-up participant checks were used during grounded theory analysis of the data (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). A theoretical model of parental movement toward action was developed that included (a) the culture and context influencing parents, (b) parents' sources of social and cultural messages, (c) parental attitude and engagement, (d) parental motivation for action, (e) intervening conditions impacting motivation and application, and (f) parent action taken on the individual and social levels. The categories and subcategories of the model are illustrated by narrative data. Implications for research, parent engagement, and prevention programming for weight-related problems in young children are discussed.




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