Objective: According to the Family Ecological Model (FEM), parenting behaviours are shaped by the contexts in which families are embedded. In the present study, we utilize the FEM to guide a mixed-methods community assessment and summarize the results. Additionally, we discuss the utility of the FEM and outline possible improvements.
Design: Using a cross-sectional design, qualitative and quantitative methods were used to examine the ecologies of parents’ cognitions and behaviours specific to children’s diet, physical activity and screen-based behaviours. Results were mapped onto constructs outlined in the FEM.
Setting: The study took place in five Head Start centres in a small north-eastern city. The community assessment was part of a larger study to develop and evaluate a family-centred obesity prevention programme for low-income families.
Subjects: Participants included eighty-nine low-income parents/caregivers of children enrolled in Head Start.
Results: Parents reported a broad range of factors affecting their parenting cognitions and behaviours. Intrafamilial factors included educational and cultural backgrounds, family size and a lack of social support from partners. Organizational factors included staff stability at key organizations, a lack of service integration and differing school routines. Community factors included social connectedness to neighbours/friends, shared norms around parenting and the availability of safe public housing and play spaces. Policy- and media-related factors included requirements of public assistance programmes, back-to-work policies and children’s exposure to food advertisements.
Conclusions: Based on these findings, the FEM was refined to create an evidence-based,temporally structured logic model to support and guide family-centred research in childhood obesity prevention.