Journal of Community Health

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 593–602 | Cite as

Perceived Parental Barriers to and Strategies for Supporting Physical Activity and Healthy Eating among Head Start Children

  • Jiying LingEmail author
  • Lorraine B. Robbins
  • Vicki Hines-Martin
Original Paper


Despite the need for parents to support their children’s healthy behaviors, knowledge of factors preventing parents from doing so is still rudimentary. This study primarily aimed to explore perceived parental barriers to and strategies for supporting physical activity and healthy eating among Head Start children. A semi-structured interview format was used with four focus groups conducted at two urban Head Start centers in the Midwestern U.S. A qualitative content analysis of audio-recorded sessions was facilitated using ATLAS.ti7. A convenience sample of 32 parents (Mage = 34.97 years) participated. Over half were female (78.1 %), African Americans (65.6 %), and single (65.6 %). About 61.3 % reported an annual family income <$20,000, and 43.8 % were unemployed. Three themes reflected the barriers: (1) intrapersonal (child): short attention span and limited eating preferences; (2) interpersonal (parent): lack of time and cooking skills and a tight family budget; and (3) environmental: inaccessible programs, lack of age-appropriate education, electronic media use, and unsafe environment. Parents across all groups expressed high interest in enrolling in a program with their children. Recommendations included: parents’ support team; family outings at parks; taking a walk or enrolling in a class with children; and planting a garden. Many parents showed their preference for face-to-face meetings and a support group, but repulsion of counseling. To promote parental support in future interventions with Head Start children, their perceived intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental barriers should be considered as intervention targets. Involving parents through a support group and face-to-face meetings is recommended.


Barriers Parental involvement Childhood obesity Head start children Qualitative 



This study was funded by Michigan State University College of Nursing. The authors thank Emily Roth, Jordyn Roberts, Ashley Triplett, and Fujun Wen for their assistance on conducting the focus groups and transcribing the audiotaped interviews.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jiying Ling
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lorraine B. Robbins
    • 2
  • Vicki Hines-Martin
    • 3
  1. 1.Michigan State University College of NursingEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Michigan State University College of NursingEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.Office of Health Disparities and Community EngagementUniversity of Louisville School of NursingLouisvilleUSA

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