Using theory to examine the feeding practices of parents of young children

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Mullan, Barbara
McGee, Megan
Mergelsberg, Enrique
McEvoy, Peter
Gardner, Ben
Hamilton, Kyin
Kothe, Emily
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Santiago, Chile


Background Obesity is a global problem, with rates of child obesity increasing around the world. In Australia, approximately 25% of children are overweight or obese. Since obesogenic behaviours are very hard to change in adulthood, understanding eating behaviours in early childhood is essential. The aim of the current research is to understand the contributing factors of healthy feeding intention and behaviour by using an extended theory of planned behaviour. Methods Questionnaires related to the theory of planned behaviour, habit, and past behaviour were reported at baseline by 444 parents. Of these, 236 completed a longitudinal healthy eating questionnaire one week later. Results Using the maximum-likelihood method of structural equation modelling it was shown that the theory of planned was a good fit to the data at time 1 and at follow-up. At both times, the goodness of fit increased when we integrated habit strength, such that habit strength was predicted by attitude, subjective norm, perceived behavioural control and intention and habit strength predicted behaviour. Furthermore, the interaction between habit strength and intention was significant. At followup this indicated that habit strength moderated the intentionbehaviour relationship. For parents with low intentions, habit strength was associated with healthier feeding behaviours. No such effect was observed amongst parents with high intentions. Discussion These results suggest the extended theory of planned behaviour is an appropriate framework to use when predicting dietary adherence in the parents of toddlers and provides practical opportunities and targets for future interventions. The results highlight the importance for researchers and policy makers to focus not just on rational decision making like intentions but on automatic processes like habit.

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International Journal of Behavioral Medicine

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Social Sciences

Psychology, Clinical

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Mullan, B; McGee, M; Mergelsberg, E; McEvoy, P; Gardner, B; Hamilton, K; Kothe, E, Using theory to examine the feeding practices of parents of young children, International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2018, 25, pp. S88-S89