Children’s learning about food and physical activity is considerable during their formative years, with parental influence pivotal. Research has focused predominantly on maternal influences with little known about the relationships between fathers’ and young children’s dietary and physical activity behaviours. A greater understanding of paternal beliefs regarding young children’s dietary and physical activity behaviours is important to inform the design and delivery of child-focussed health promotion interventions. This study aimed to describe fathers’ perceived roles in their children’s eating and physical activity behaviours. It also sought to document fathers’ views regarding how they could be best supported to promote healthy eating and physical activity behaviours in their young children.
In depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty fathers living in socio-economically diverse areas of metropolitan Melbourne, Australia who had at least one child aged five years or less. All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and thematically analysed.
Thematic analysis of the transcripts revealed eight broad themes about fathers’ beliefs, perceptions and attitudes towards the dietary and physical activity behaviours of their young children: (i) shared responsibility and consultation; (ii) family meal environment; (iii) parental role modelling; (iv) parental concerns around food; (v) food rewards; (vi) health education; (vii) limiting screen time; and (viii) parental knowledge. Analysis of themes according to paternal education/employment revealed no substantial differences in the views of fathers.
This exploratory study presents the views of a socio-economically diverse group of fathers regarding the dietary and physical activity behaviours of their young children and the insights into the underlying perceptions informing these views. The findings suggest that fathers believe healthy eating behaviours and being physically active are important for their young children. Fathers believe these behaviours can be promoted and supported in different ways including through the provision of appropriate meal and physical activity environments and parental role modelling of desired dietary and physical activity behaviours.