Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Perceived Parenting Style and the Eating Practices of College Freshmen

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Perceived Parenting Style and the Eating Practices of College Freshmen

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Unhealthy eating contributes to morbidity in adolescents and college students and is an antecedent of premature mortality in adulthood. It has been suggested that the increase in independence (i.e., living away from parents) of adolescents contributes to their poor eating behaviors. Some literature reports that specific parenting styles may reduce the probability of engaging in poor eating practices. Purpose: We investigated the association between college freshmen's eating practices and their perceptions of parenting style. Methods: An Internet-based survey was used to sample 264 college freshmen between the ages of 18 and 20 years from a large southeastern university. Data analysis used univariate and bivariate statistics along with multiple regression analysis. Results: Student eating practices fell short of optimal dietary recommendations. Whereas the literature suggests that parenting style predicts healthy eating during early adolescence, it did not predict healthy eating in this sample of college freshmen, accounting for less than 1% of the variance in eating practices. Nevertheless, responses to an open-ended question suggested that some students believed that parents had influenced their current eating behaviors. Discussion: We found little evidence of any latent effects of parenting style on eating behaviors among college freshmen. Translation to Health Education Practice: Despite positive parental influences, as it relates to health eating, continued reinforcement at the individual (e.g., skill enhancement with regard to meal preparation), interpersonal (e.g., role modeling healthy eating practices among peers), community (e.g., establishing famers' markets) and organizational (e.g., increased access to healthy food options in cafeterias) levels is needed.

BACKGROUND

Reduction or elimination of poor food choices and unhealthy eating practices is one of the nation's priority health behaviors according to Healthy People 2020. (1) Unhealthy eating contributes to morbidity in adolescents and young adults and is an antecedent of premature mortality in later adulthood. According to a national study of adolescents, only about one-fifth eats five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. (2) Similarly, the number of college students who eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day ranges from 6% to 26%. (3-5) Furthermore, 50% of freshmen consume flied foods at least twice a week and high-fat fast foods at least twice a week. (6,7)

Eating practices during adolescence are influenced by a multitude of factors, (8-10) although social contexts may be the most fundamental. (11) Social environments are particularly relevant during the early adolescent years when standards for behavior are set and most activities are controlled by parents. (12) The behaviors and attitudes of parents facilitate the development of a variety of health behaviors among children and adolescents in the home. (13) According to some researchers, parent-child relationships may be one of the strongest factors that influence food choices among adolescents. (10) In particular, parenting styles may reduce the probability of engaging in certain health risk behaviors, including poor eating practices, because of the roles control and nurturance play in shaping behavior. (14-17)

Theoretical Framework

In the parenting style framework, parenting style has two dimensions: demandingness (of children's behavior) and responsiveness, (to children's needs). (18,19) These dimensions produce three distinct parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian and permissive. (14,15) Authoritative parenting is characterized by being involved and supportive, setting clear standards, enforcing rules, and encouraging independence, individuality and verbal give-and-take. Parents who are both highly demanding and highly responsive are considered authoritative. In contrast, authoritarian parenting sets absolute standards, uses discipline to shape and control behavior, values obedience and respect for authority, and discourages verbal give and take. …

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