My obesity research examines the influence of parental feeding practices on child weight in Mexican American families, with a special focus on the role of fathers. I am also exploring Latino parents’ experiences and perceptions of the sociocultural and structural barriers in urban areas, which make it difficult to feed their children healthful foods. In order to inform preventive interventions and public health policy, I am specifically interested in how these factors in turn influence the development of overweight and obesity in children aged 2-10 years.
It is known that mothers influence their children’s weight through their child-feeding behaviors, but this is only one familial factor (Birch & Ventura, 2009). There is a dearth of research on the processes or mechanisms by which both parents’ child-feeding behaviors influence child weight in Mexican American families (Khandpur, Blaine, Fisher, & Davison, 2014). In 2009-2010, 22% of Mexican American children ages 6 to 11 had a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to the 95th percentile and were considered obese compared to 14% of non-Latino White children of similar ages (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2012). This disparity was also seen among children under age 6. In the same period, 16% of Mexican American children ages 2 to 5 were considered obese compared to 9% of non-Latino White children. Obesity during these early years is associated with increased risk of obesity later in life. In Mexican families, where fathers often influence family decisions, it is important to understand how they may also influence decisions around child feeding. Parental child-feeding practices are a major focus of my research because they are thought to be among the most modifiable risk factors in children’s weight status, particularly when compared to other strong predictors such as parental weight status, parental education level and ethnicity. Using the conceptual framework from Davison and Birch’s ecological model (Davison & Birch, 2001), which identifies individual, family and sociocultural influences on children’s weight status, this research applies quantitative and qualitative methods to examine parental and sociocultural influences on child-feeding practices in Mexican American families.