Body image, eating attitudes and behaviours, and physical activity: A multi-method study of school age children in child care

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Andrushko, Kelly
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A multi-method qualitative study of a child care facility was conducted to examine (1) body image, (2) eating attitudes and behaviours, and (3) physical activity among Canadian school age children. The purpose was to recognize and understand the behaviours and social interactions of children related to these concepts at a before- and after-school child care program for children in Grades K-6. How these behaviours and interactions influenced and could be influenced by child care practice was also studied. Observations of six- to 12-year-old children were made over a four-month period to examine interrelationships among the three concepts. These observations were in conjunction with selected interviews with children, informal conversations with child care staff, and with child learning activities conducted by the researcher. Guided by ecological systems theory, the data were examined using content analysis and general inductive analysis. Four main themes emerged from the data: (1) “How to be a better, healthier person,” (2) “Out of their hands,” (3) “Puppets cutting their strings,” and (4) “Reaching out.” Findings showed that children were knowledgeable about ideas and behaviours that influenced health, which was due in part to formal and informal teaching about health at the Centre. The children also exhibited, or were learning to exhibit, healthy behaviours, which were congruent with the child care program’s philosophy, goals, and children’s rights and responsibilities. These healthy behaviours included a positive sense of self, healthy eating habits and food choices, and regular physical activity. Some children’s behaviours also reflected the influences of sociocultural forces, specifically related to physical appearance and activity. This research showed that early learning and child care practice can shape children’s ideas and behaviour about body image, eating and activity. Implications for the establishment and delivery of child care programs, as well as the training and regulation of professional child care staff, are discussed.
Body image, Children, Development, Eating, Health, Physical activity, Child care