Academic journal article Journal of Research for Consumers

The Influence of Grandparents on Children's Diets

Academic journal article Journal of Research for Consumers

The Influence of Grandparents on Children's Diets

Article excerpt


Grandparents play an important role in feeding their grandchildren, yet the families in this qualitative study reported that grandparents usually provide their children with unhealthy food. Grandparents were frequently discussed as one of the major enablers of children's unhealthy eating, yet they remain overlooked in campaigns to improve children's diets. The findings suggest ways that social marketers can develop specific campaigns to improve children's diets through their grandparents.



The Australian Government estimates that almost three-quarters of the Australian population will be overweight or obese by 2025, including one-third of all children (National Preventative Health Taskforce 2008). Obesity has been declared a major epidemic in Australia and throughout the world. The physical symptoms of obesity in childhood and adolescence include increased cardiovascular disease, abnormal glucose metabolism, hepaticgastrointestinal abnormalities, and orthopaedic problems. Child obesity also has a strong association with Type-2 diabetes. Type-2 diabetes can later lead to heart disease, stroke, limb amputation, kidney failure, and blindness. The mental health problems include low selfesteem, depression, and increased likelihood of suicide ideation and suicide attempts. Obese children also suffer from increased exposure to bullying, both as victims and perpetrators.

There are many studies examining the influence of families on children's diets, and these have identified a range of factors including parental knowledge, parenting style, parental modelling, and home environment. In almost all studies, the role of grandparents remains unexamined. John (1999) argued that family consumption influence needs to be studied at a disaggregate level, breaking it down into discrete influences, such as father to son, or in the case of this study, grandparent to grandchild. This may provide specific, and therefore more actionable, insights to improve children's diets.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2008) indicate that 28% of grandparents regularly care for their grandchildren while their parents work, and as many as 39% provide care during school holidays. During a 12 month period, 83% of children had been cared for by their grandparents. Younger children are up to four times more likely to be cared for by grandparents than by formal day care centres, yet while grandparents have been largely ignored, day care centres have received considerable attention from those seeking to improve children's diets.

Little is known about the influence of grandparents on children's diets. This paper reports findings from a qualitative study of children's diets that explicitly examined the influence of family groups and peer groups. The study focused on the social and psychological factors contributing to child obesity, and in doing so uncovered important insights on the role of grandparents. These insights can inform social marketing interventions that aim to improve children's diets.


Data were collected in three schools - one higher, one middle, and one lower socioeconomic status (SES) school. The participants included both children (n=124, including five children living with their grandparents) and parents (n=29). The children were aged from 6 to 12 years. Table 1 provides a breakdown of the gender and SES profiles of the sample members. The number of men in the study was low which reflects the fact that only primary carers were recruited into the study.


Grandparents were reported by many parents as having considerable impact on their grandchildren's diets. This occurred through their use of foods as gifts and their role as childcare providers, as discussed below. Identifiers are provided with each quote to indicate the SES of the school from which children and parents were recruited (low (LSES), medium (MSES), and high (HSES)) and the data collection format (group or individual (indiv)). …

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