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Overweight and obese children: mothers’ strategies


  • Debra Jackson BHSc MN PhD RN,

  • Judy Mannix BEd MN RN,

  • Pat Faga BAppSc RN SCM,

  • Glenda McDonald BSocSc

Debra Jackson,
School of Nursing,
Family and Community Health,
University of Western Sydney,
Parramatta Campus,
Building ER,
Locked Bag 1797,
Penrith South DC,
New South Wales 1797,


Aim.  This paper reports a study exploring the strategies a group of mothers of overweight and obese children were using and planned to use in the future to assist their children to achieve a healthy weight.

Background.  Over the past two decades, the prevalence of childhood obesity has grown exponentially to become a major public health concern. Extant literature suggests that childhood obesity is associated with a range of physical, social and psychological effects, including poor self-esteem, depression, social isolation, and cardio-vascular and other morbidity. Parents are known to be important in determining early eating and exercise habits, and their involvement is crucial to achieving positive child health outcomes.

Methods.  An exploratory-descriptive design informed by feminist research principles shaped the study, which was carried out in 2003–2004. Eleven mothers meeting the inclusion criteria took part in in-depth interviews. These were transcribed, and qualitatively analysed.

Findings.  Participants revealed sound understandings of the concept and ramifications of obesity. They had initiated a range of strategies including role modelling, developing opportunities for increased physical activity, reducing the use of junk food, and heightened awareness of how they used food. Participants viewed the problem as a family rather than an individual problem, and aimed many of the interventions at the entire family to avoid targeting the focus child.

Conclusions.  Further research into how childhood obesity is managed within the context of family life is needed. Specifically, additional perspectives on how mothers from various socio-cultural groups address childhood obesity within family life, and longitudinal studies to explore the efficacy and sustainability of family-based lifestyle changes that are made in response to concerns about child weight issues. Additional research to explore the type and nature of family support that can best assist families to achieve sustainable lifestyle improvements is needed.