Academic journal article Childhood Obesity

Fathers' Perspectives on Coparenting in the Context of Child Feeding

Academic journal article Childhood Obesity

Fathers' Perspectives on Coparenting in the Context of Child Feeding

Article excerpt

[Author Affiliation]

Neha Khandpur. 1 Department of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, MA.

Jo Charles. 1 Department of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, MA.

Kirsten K. Davison. 1 Department of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, MA. 2 Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, MA.

Address correspondence to: Neha Khandpur, ScD, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, E-mail: neha12@mail.harvard.edu

Background

The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children in the United States remains high. In 2011-2012, 23% of preschool-aged children and more than 34% of school-aged children were overweight or obese.1,2 During infancy and early childhood, parents have the largest influence on their children's food and activity behaviors.3 Parents' knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, food choices, and parenting practices directly and indirectly shape their children's food and activity choices. These choices, over time, may lead to positive energy balance, weight gain, and obesity.4 Elucidating parental influences on child energy regulation is therefore crucial to understanding and addressing childhood obesity.

The existing body of evidence in this field is heavily focused on mothers. Researchers have been slow to recognize fathers as important agents in influencing childhood obesity. Despite the growing involvement of fathers in child rearing,5-8 prompted by important sociocultural changes, their rates of inclusion in research remain low.9 The literature on food parenting provides some evidence of their underrepresentation.10,11 In a review of the determinants of children's fruit and vegetable intake, Rasmussen et al. found that only 11% of eligible studies included fathers.10 Similarly, in a systematic review of the parent-child resemblance in dietary intake conducted by Wang et al., only 6 of the 24 studies included fathers.11 Family-based childhood intervention studies have an equally low representation of fathers.12 Moreover, the few studies that have included fathers have small sample sizes, recruit fathers through mothers or children, and focus on white, well-educated fathers cohabiting with the child's mother.13 As family structures evolve and gender-based parenting roles converge,14 studying fathers becomes a research priority to further our understanding of their role in child feeding as it relates to both the child and to the child's mother.

A small emerging literature has begun to uncover fathers' role in food parenting. Recent research with fathers illustrates that they use a wide variety of food parenting practices15 or strategies to manage how much, when, and what their children eat.16 Similar to mothers, fathers adopt both unresponsive (permissiveness, coercive control) and responsive (autonomy support, structure) food parenting practices.15 Differences in the frequency with which mothers and fathers use specific food parenting practices have also been examined. While it has been suggested that fathers may use coercive food parenting practices to feed their children more often than mothers,17-19 more research is warranted to confirm these initial findings.

Examining mother-father interactions in the context of food parenting from a coparenting perspective is an important next step to build on the growing understanding of individual parental effects on child weight outcomes. Coparenting is a construct that captures the extent to which mothers and fathers coordinate, support, or undermine each other's parenting efforts20,21 across diverse family structures. …

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