African American Fathers’ Perceptions of Childhood Overweight: An Exploratory Study
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Childhood overweight/obesity (CHO) is a serious health concern for children and adolescents. Despite increased efforts to prevent CHO, prevalence rates have actually increased. Evidence suggests that parents are critical to successful interventions to reduce CHO among children. While research efforts aimed at parental inclusion have increased, limited research has been conducted to investigate fathers’ perception of CHO, or their influences on their children’s health. The objective of this two-phase study was to answer three research questions: a) How does the extant literature operationalize African American parental perceptions of childhood overweight/obesity? b) What are African American fathers’ perceptions of CHO? and c) How do African American fathers perceive CHO in relation to their own child’s weight status? Evidence-based studies reveal that fathers have the potential to play a significant role in CHO prevention. Phase one (literature review) revealed that published studies on parental perception of CHO either exclude fathers, include them only in data collection, and/or report no results specific to paternal perception. Thus, an exploratory qualitative study was needed to explore African American fathers’ perceptions of CHO. In phase two (qualitative study), four fathers were interviewed about their perceptions of CHO and how they contextualize this problem. The results indicated fathers believe that weight categories are racially & culturally insensitive and do not account for individual health status or differences in body/bone structure, and that parents with overweight children are financially disadvantaged, irresponsible and overworked. Fathers also indicated that colloquial terms (e.g., chunky, husky, big-boned, thick) were commonly substituted medical definitions for overweight and that child/teen sports participation was motivated by health, as well as non-health related benefits (e.g., competitiveness, educational scholarships). Further, fathers’ identification of CHO is subjective and includes visual means and parental assessment of health status (e.g., child mobility/activity levels). Implications of this study are that additional studies are needed to clarify fathers’ roles in CHO and that future studies should consider complex familial structures, as well as reframe prevention efforts to focus on optimal child health as opposed to weight labeling and focusing on parents’ accuracy in identifying weight categories.
Byrd, Vanessa (2010). African American Fathers’ Perceptions of Childhood Overweight: An Exploratory Study. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from