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Parents’ Perceptions of Child Feeding: A Qualitative Study Based on the Theory of Planned Behavior

Duncanson, Kerith Grad Dip N&D*,†,‡; Burrows, Tracy PhD*,†; Holman, Brett BS*; Collins, Clare PhD*,†

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: May 2013 - Volume 34 - Issue 4 - p 227–236
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e31828b2ccf
Original Articles

Objective: The aim of this qualitative study was to investigate the child-feeding behaviors and attitudes of parents of children aged 2 to 5 years, within the theory of planned behavior (TPB) framework.

Methods: Semistructured telephone interviews were conducted in October 2011. The interviewer conducted and recorded the interviews from a community health center, to interviewees who were in their own home environment. Verbatim transcription of interviews preceded manual coding of data. Emergent themes were mapped into a matrix against a priori-coded TPB constructs (attitudes, beliefs, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control, and behavioral intention).

Results: Twenty-one consenting parents participated in interviews. Participants were predominantly tertiary-educated (65%) mothers (85%) who were older than 30 years (76%). Parents believed that optimal child nutrition is important but difficult to achieve. Behavioral intention to change feeding practices was limited by a belief that child’s dietary intake is above average compared with their peer group. Perceived control over child dietary intake was influenced by food advertising, extended family, and peer influences. Parents supported targeting nutrition education directly at children and a policy approach to offset the costs of fresh foods by taxing “junk” foods.

Conclusions: The application of TPB to child feeding may explain the disparity between parents’ child-feeding intentions and behaviors. Parents’ feeding behaviors are more influenced by peers than by dietary guidelines. Future interventions need to target parents’ perceived child-feeding responsibilities, influence subjective norms, and increase parents’ perceived control over child feeding. Peer nutrition education is proposed as an intervention model.

*Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health, The University of Newcastle, University Drive, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia;

Hunter New England Local Health District, Forster, NSW 2428, Australia;

Priority Research Center in Physical Activity and Nutrition, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia.

Address for reprints: Kerith Duncanson, Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health, The University of Newcastle, University Drive, Forster Community Health Centre, PO Box 448, Forster, NSW 2428, Australia; e-mail:

Kerith Duncanson is supported by University of Newcastle Research Higher Degree training scheme funds. Clare Collins is supported by an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Career Development Research Fellowship.

Disclosure: There are no competing interests to declare.

Authors’ contributions: K.D. developed interview protocol, implemented interviews, completed data extraction and analysis, and drafted the manuscript. B.H. completed data extraction and analysis. T.B. and C.C. participated in the design of the study and interview question preparation and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Received August , 2012

Accepted February , 2013

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.