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      Using path analysis to understand parents' perceptions of their children's weight, physical activity and eating habits in the Champlain region of Ontario.

      Paediatrics & child health

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          Parents have a fundamental role in promoting the healthy weight of their children. To determine parental perceptions of their child's body weight, eating and physical activity (PA) behaviours, and to test a predictive model of parental perceptions regarding their child's PA and healthy eating behaviours. A random-digit telephone survey was conducted among parents of children four to 12 years of age living in the Champlain region of Ontario. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize the responses. Path analysis was used to identify predictors of parental perceptions of PA and healthy eating. The study sample consisted of 1940 parents/caregivers. Only 0.2% of parents reported their child as being obese; 8.6% reported their child as being overweight. Most parents perceived their child to be physically active and eating healthily. Approximately 25% of parents reported that their child spent 2 h/day or more in front of a screen, and that their child consumed less than three servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and regularly consumed fast food. Variables that correlated with PA perceptions included time spent reading/doing homework, interest in PA, perceived importance of PA, frequency of PA, level of parental PA, participation in organized sport, child weight and parental concern for weight. Variables that predicted perceptions regarding healthy eating were parental education, household income, preparation of home-cooked meals, fruit and vegetable intake, and concern for and influence on the child's weight. Parents in the present study sample did not appear to understand, or had little knowledge of the recommendations for PA and healthy eating in children. Parents appeared to base their judgment of healthy levels of PA or healthy eating behaviours using minimal criteria; these criteria are inconsistent with those used by health professionals to define adequate PA and healthy eating. The present survey highlights an important knowledge gap between scientific opinion and parental perceptions of the criteria for healthy PA and eating behaviours.

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