Understanding parents’ reflective motivation towards reducing unhealthy food provision

PhD candidate Brittany Johnson has led work to examine constructs of parents’  motivation. Read the full paper.

The paper

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). DOI: 10.3390/nu11071507.

Why we studied this topic

In Australia, young children’s intake of unhealthy foods is well above recommendations. Parents are an ideal target to reduce children’s unhealthy food intake. Motivation is one component of behaviour change; however, there is a limited research exploring parental motivation in unhealthy food provision. We were trying to understand the most important components of parents’ motivation towards reducing unhealthy food provision.

What this paper adds

We found that parents’ confidence (self-efficacy), intention and planning were most important in reducing unhealthy foods provided to three to seven year old children. Confidence relates to believing you can change provision. Planning is having the strategies or  ‘how to’  go about reducing unhealthy foods. Intention is actually aiming or planning to reduce provision. Essentially what this means is that parents’ motivation can be enhanced by confidence, planning and their intention to reduce unhealthy foods.

To boost their confidence, parents can use positive self-talk, which is reminding yourself that you can reduce how much unhealthy foods children eat, or to provide healthier alternatives that their child likes. Planning tips include establishing clear plans before entering a supermarket, such as avoiding the snack isle to help reduce how often unhealthy foods are purchased.

What we also found is that is model of motivation accounted for just under 10% of the variance in children’ s unhealthy food intake, which suggests there are other important factors that influence children’s unhealthy food intake not accounted for by motivation alone, such as parental capability (knowledge and skills) or opportunity (resources and social influences).

What was surprising

In our sample around 50% of parents intended to reduce their provision, meaning for the other 50% there is still a need to increase either parents awareness of the dietary guideline recommendations, and how children’s current intake compares, and the consequences of consuming too many unhealthy foods in general and specifically for their child (risk perception), as well as weighing up the pros and cons changing current provision (outcome expectancies) and having the confidence to change provision (action self-efficacy).

What it means for policy/practice

Parents’ reflective motivation to reduce unhealthy foods is needed to initiate a change in parents’ provision of unhealthy foods to their children. Interventions and initiatives are needed to support parents’ motivation by enhancing their confidence, intention and planning to support parents to act on their intentions.


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