Qualitative evidence of the disconnect between intent and interpretation of common child obesity prevention messages

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues





Publication Date



Many health professionals disseminate similar obesity prevention messages regarding food selection and eating and physical activity behaviors, based on varying levels of supporting evidence. A pilot study of 44 low-income mothers of children aged 4–10 years explored mothers understanding of selected messages. Mothers were asked to report perceptions of how each targeted behavior might prevent children from becoming overweight. Six states used a single recruitment strategy, interview guide and protocol based on a card sort activity with projective interviewing techniques. Targeted behaviors included eating together as a family, limiting sedentary activities, restricting access to food, portion sizes, eating out, choosing healthful foods, sweetened beverage intake and eating breakfast daily. Some surprising interpretations were revealed regarding perceived relationship of messages to weight status. Examples include eating together as a family could lead to overeating and playing video games could keep children from snacking. Informants expressed uncertainty about how eating breakfast could impact weight and confusion regarding food restriction. These findings suggest health professionals need to be clear in translating research into meaningful messages. Funding was provided by authors’ institutions.