Perspectives on Stress, Parenting, and Children's Obesity-Related Behaviors in Black Families

Health Educ Behav. 2016 Dec;43(6):632-640. doi: 10.1177/1090198115620418. Epub 2016 Jan 5.


Objective In an effort to develop targets for childhood obesity interventions in non-Hispanic-Black (Black) families, this study examined parental perceptions of stress and identified potential links among parental stress and children's eating patterns, physical activity, and screen-time. Method Thirty-three self-identified Black parents or grandparents of a child aged 3 to 7 years were recruited from a large, urban Black church to participate in semistructured interviews. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using thematic analysis. Results Parents/grandparents described a pathway between how stress affected them personally and their child's eating, structured (sports/dance) and unstructured (free-play) physical activity, and screen-time usage, as well as strategies to prevent this association. Five themes emerged: stress affects parent behaviors related to food and physical activity variably; try to be healthy even with stress; parent/grandparent stress eating and parenting; stress influences family cooking, food choices, and child free-play; and screen-time use to decrease parent stress. Negative parent/grandparent response to their personal stress adversely influenced food purchases and parenting related to child eating, free-play, and screen-time. Children of parents/grandparents who ate high-fat/high-sugar foods when stressed requested these foods. In addition to structured physical activity, cooking ahead and keeping food in the house were perceived to guard against the effects of stress except during parent cravings. Parent/child screen-time helped decrease parent stress. Conclusion Parents/grandparents responded variably to stress which affected the child eating environment, free-play, and screen-time. Family-based interventions to decrease obesity in Black children should consider how stress influences parents. Targeting parent cravings and coping strategies that utilize structure in eating and physical activity may be useful intervention strategies.

Keywords: BMI; fast food; fruit; obesity; physical activity; psychological stress; vegetables.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Food Preferences
  • Grandparents / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New England
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Urban Population
  • Young Adult