Perceptions of healthy eating and physical activity in an ethnically diverse sample of young children and their parents: the DEAL prevention of obesity study

J Hum Nutr Diet. 2013 Apr;26(2):132-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-277X.2012.01280.x. Epub 2012 Jul 25.


Background: Ethnicity is a consistent correlate of obesity; however, little is known about the perceptions and beliefs that may influence engagement with obesity prevention programmes among ethnic minority children. Barriers to (and facilitators of) healthy lifestyles were examined in the qualitative arm of the London (UK) DiEt and Active Living (DEAL) study.

Methods: Children aged 8-13 years and their parents, from diverse ethnic groups, were recruited through schools and through places of worship. Thirteen focus group sessions were held with 70 children (n = 39 girls) and eight focus groups and five interviews with 43 parents (n = 34 mothers).

Results: Across ethnic groups, dislike of school meals, lack of knowledge of physical activity guidelines for children and negativity towards physical education at school among girls, potentially hindered healthy living. Issues relating to families' wider neighbourhoods (e.g. fast food outlets; lack of safety) illustrated child and parental concerns that environments could thwart intentions for healthy eating and activity. By contrast, there was general awareness of key dietary messages and an emphasis on dietary variety and balance. For ethnic minorities, places of worship were key focal points for social support. Discourse around the retention of traditional practices, family roles and responsibilities, and religion highlighted both potential facilitators (e.g. the importance of family meals) and barriers (reliance on convenience stores for traditional foods). Socio-economic circumstances intersected with key themes, within and between ethnic groups.

Conclusions: Several barriers to (and facilitators of) healthy lifestyles were common across ethnic groups. Diversity of cultural frameworks not only were more nuanced, but also shaped lifestyles for minority children.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Diet* / ethnology
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice* / ethnology
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Life Style* / ethnology
  • London
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Obesity / ethnology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Parents*
  • Religion
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors