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Keywords:

  • autonomy;
  • child health;
  • healthy eating;
  • motivation;
  • physical activity

Background: Self-determination theory has been widely applied to understanding individuals' health-related behaviors such as eating healthy foods and exercising. Different reasons for engagement are associated with varying levels of personal agency or autonomy. Authority figures in the environment can be supportive of autonomy or, in contrast, controlling. Although researchers have assessed individuals' perceptions of the autonomy-support in their environments, studies have not directly examined the authority figures' orientations to autonomy with respect to health contexts. Methods: A new scale, Parent Orientations to Health, was created to investigate parent orientation to autonomy and control with respect to healthy eating and exercise in children. One hundred and forty-three parents of elementary school-aged children responded to the scale. Results: Scale validation and reliability results indicate that the scale successfully assessed parent orientation towards autonomy for children in health contexts. Furthermore, parent autonomy orientation varied according to child weight status and the healthiness of the child's diet. Conclusions: Parent orientation towards autonomy can be evaluated through the use of the Parent Orientations to Health scale. In addition, parent autonomy orientation is associated with both the healthiness of the child's diet (as perceived by the parent) and the child's body mass index.