The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
All authors participated in the conception of the research questions and writing of the manuscript. SS coordinated the drafting of the manuscript and carried out the descriptive and correlation analysis, with input from ST. ST designed the Healthy Home Child Care Project, supervised the data collection and conducted the cluster analysis. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Parental support is a key influence on children’s health behaviours; however, no previous investigation has simultaneously explored the influence of mothers’ and fathers’ social support on eating and physical activity in preschool-aged children. This study evaluated the singular and combined effects of maternal and paternal support for physical activity (PA) and fruit and vegetable consumption (FV) on preschoolers’ PA and FV.
A random sample comprising 173 parent–child dyads completed validated scales assessing maternal and paternal instrumental support and child PA and FV behaviour. Pearson correlations, controlling for child age, parental age, and parental education, were used to evaluate relationships between maternal and paternal support and child PA and FV. K-means cluster analysis was used to identify families with distinct patterns of maternal and paternal support for PA and FV, and one-way ANOVA examined the impact of cluster membership on child PA and FV.
Maternal and paternal support for PA were positively associated with child PA (r = 0.37 and r = 0.36, respectively; P < 0.001). Maternal but not paternal support for FV was positively associated with child FV (r = 0.35; P < 0.001). Five clusters characterised groups of families with distinct configurations of maternal and paternal support for PA and FV: 1) above average maternal and paternal support for PA and FV, 2) below average maternal and paternal support for PA and FV, 3) above average maternal and paternal support for PA but below average maternal and paternal support for FV, 4) above average maternal and paternal support for FV but below average maternal and paternal support for PA, and 5) above average maternal support but below average paternal support for PA and FV. Children from families with above average maternal and paternal support for both health behaviours had higher PA and FV levels than children from families with above average support for just one health behaviour, or below average support for both behaviours.
The level and consistency of instrumental support from mothers and fathers for PA and FV may be an important target for obesity prevention in preschool-aged children.