Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

What practices do parents perceive as effective or ineffective in promoting a healthy diet, physical activity, and less sitting in children: parent focus groups

Sara De Lepeleere*, Ann DeSmet, Maïté Verloigne, Greet Cardon and Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij

Author Affiliations

Department of Movement and Sport Sciences, Ghent University, Watersportlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:1067  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1067

Published: 12 November 2013



To support parents in improving the health of their young children, examples of effective parenting practices for a healthy diet, physical activity (PA) and sedentary behavior (SB) are needed. This study explores perceived effective and ineffective parenting practices in difficult situations concerning raising healthy children and investigates their relationship with Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). The current study is formative work to inform the content of a randomized controlled trial.


Four focus groups were conducted between June and October 2012 at worksites during lunch break. A total of 21 unrelated parents of primary schoolchildren (6 fathers, 15 mothers) participated. A short written questionnaire introduced typical difficult situations derived from parental anecdotal reports, concerning healthy diet, PA and SB. These situations formed the backbone for the subsequent focus group discussion. In October 2012, discussions were audio-recorded and analyzed in Nvivo to identify key response items using thematic analysis.


Parents experienced explaining why the child should behave healthily, monitoring, being consistent, offering alternatives, reacting empathetically, modeling, motivating, increasing intrinsic value and availability, and using time-out as effective practices, whereas anger was considered ineffective. Opinions were mixed about the effectiveness of giving as much freedom as possible, obliging, rewarding and punishing, and setting rules and agreements. Parenting practices were consistent with principles from both SDT and SCT.


Parents identified numerous perceived effective practices to respond to their child’s health-related behavior. Since many of them coincide with the evidence base and the success of a parenting program depends upon the degree to which parents’ concerns and motivations are integrated into the program design, important opportunities are created for future intervention programs.

Parenting; Children; Healthy diet; Physical activity; Sedentary behavior; SDT; SCT