Predicting what mothers feed their preschoolers: Guided by an extended theory of planned behaviour

Abstract

Background: Healthy eating behaviours are important for physical and mental well-being and developing healthy eating behaviours early in life is important. As parents are the main providers of preschool children’s food the main objective of this study was to use the theory of planned behaviour, expanded to include habit and past behaviour, to predict parents’ healthy feeding intention and behaviour. Methods: Theory of planned behaviour, habit strength, and past behaviour were reported at baseline by 443 mothers. One week later, 235 mothers completed a healthy feeding questionnaire on the eating behaviours of their 2–4 year old child. Data were analysed using hierarchical regression analyses to predict parent’s general healthy feeding behaviour, and five sub-behaviours: parents’ perceptions of their child’s fruit and vegetable consumption, healthy and unhealthy snacking behaviour, as well as healthy and unhealthy drinking behaviour. Results: Intention, perceived behavioural control, habit strength and past behaviour were all positively associated with parents’ general healthy feeding (47% explained variance). Perceived behavioural control was the only variable positively associated with mothers’ perception of their child’s fruit and vegetable consumption and unhealthy snacking behaviour. The theory did not explain the other behaviours. Moreover, habit strength only strengthened the intention-behaviour link for fruit and vegetable consumption and child’s age was only positively associated with the mothers’ perception of their child’s unhealthy snacking behaviour. Discussion: The findings suggest important differences in the predictors of different feeding behaviours that can provide direction for future intervention development.

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