Children are less likely to overconsume unhealthy foods if their parents are confident that they can plan and succeed in limiting intake of these foods, even in the face of everyday barriers that may make unhealthy food provision a more convenient option, according to study results published in Nutrients.

In a cross-sectional online survey, 495 parents of children aged 3 to 7 years living in Australia were queried using the short food survey, a food frequency questionnaire. Children’s intake of unhealthy food was a subset of this survey and was measured using children’s mean daily servings of unhealthy foods, which was also used to represent parents’ provision of these foods.

Predictor variables were collected using a 57-item parental food attitude questionnaire that assessed 14 motivational constructs in the health action process approach (HAPA) model. Constructs in the HAPA model included risk perception, positive and negative outcome expectancies, action self-efficacy, intention, maintenance self-efficacy, action planning, coping planning, and recovery self-efficacy.

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The suitability of the HAPA model was supported by model fit statistics (X2 = 210.03, df = 83, P <.001; comparative fit index = 0.96; Tucker-Lewis index = 0.94). The most important constructs in reducing children’s intake of unhealthy foods involved parental perception of self-efficacy (action to maintenance, β = 0.69; maintenance to recovery, β = 0.70; maintenance to planning, β = 0.82). Other key constructs included planning (to unhealthy food intake, β = −0.32) and intention (to planning β = 0.21).

Despite these results, investigators caution that intention alone may not be effective for reducing unhealthy food intake, although higher levels of intention appear to correlate with higher levels of planning, which does impart reductions in intake.

Limitations of the survey include its cross-sectional design, as well as the non-random sampling approach.

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While self-motivation to reduce children’s intake of unhealthy foods may be an effective construct, the researchers concluded “that there are other important factors that influence children’s unhealthy food intake not accounted for by motivation alone, such as parental capability or opportunity.” Future research may need to explore “what competing intentions parents may hold regarding food provision”


Johnson BJ, Hendrie GA, Zarnowiecki D, Huynh EK, Golley RK. Examining constructs of parental reflective motivation towards reducing unhealthy food provision to young children. Nutrients. 2019;11(7).