The Effect of the Family Structure on Child Physical Activity within a Fitness Intervention: A Theoretical Approach
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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Overweight or obese children are five times more likely to become obese adults, and obesity-related conditions (i.e. heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers) are now the leading causes of preventable death. However, recent studies have suggested that children with higher levels of physical fitness can significantly decrease their risk for various health conditions, compared to children with lower fitness levels. One way to increase physical fitness in children is by promoting their physical activity. Parents and caregivers can play a large role in their child’s physical activity engagement by providing autonomy-supportive structure within the household and engaging in physical activity themselves. In the present study, the Famtastically Fit intervention provided opportunities for both children and parents to learn about physical activity and strategies for implementation within the household. Participants consisted of 8 families; parents (n=9) who identified as sedentary and children (n=10) who were considered obese (> 93rd percentile). Families were asked to come once weekly for a 60-90 minute session involving separate but concurrently running exercise sessions for children and adults, parental health education, and family group sessions for 9 weeks. Variables of interest included physical activity, body composition (lean mass, fat mass, and bone mineral content), motivation, parental perception of their child’s competence, parental self-efficacy, child perceived competence, child self-efficacy, and the child proxy efficacy. In addition, we conducted semi-structured interviews with the children pre- and post-assessment and with the parents during post-assessment to explore the implementation of structure and learned strategies within the household. Our results suggested no significant difference in physical activity for parents or children over the course of the intervention; however, there was a significant (p=.001) relationship between maternal and child physical activity. Children experienced significant differences in lean mass (p=0.000) and bone mineral content (p=0.000). Parents had significant increases in their self-efficacy (p=.04), identified motivation (p=.04) and their perception of their child’s competence (p=.02), and a significant decrease in their amotivation (p=.01). Our qualitative analyses provided insight into the family’s implementation of structure, household changes since the onset of the intervention, and barriers to physical activity engagement. The findings of this Famtastically Fit intervention underline the importance of the role of parents and caregivers in child physical activity, how implementation of autonomy-supportive structure can be beneficial in promoting children's autonomous engagement in desirable behaviors, and identifies environmental barriers to physical activity.