The Influence of Past Food Insecurity on Parents' use of Child Feeding Practices Recommended to Prevent Child Obesity

Worksite Location
CCE of Suffolk County, NY (primary location) and CCE of Nassau County
Faculty Sponsor
Katherine Dickin, Research Scientist, Division of Nutritional Sciences
Field Mentors/Supervisors
Zahrine Bajwa, Nutrition Health and Wellness, CCE of Suffolk County and Jennifer Colletti, Nutrition Extension Educator, CCE of Nassau County
Project Summary and Intended Outcomes

Research has shown that parenting and child-feeding practices can influence the risk of childhood obesity, but little is known about the antecedents of these practices. An understanding of the source and motivations of current behaviors provides essential guidance for designing programs to promote behavior change. Low-income parents participating in CCE nutrition education programs such as Healthy Children, Healthy Families: Parents making a difference! (HCHF) have mentioned that previous food experiences and food insecurity in their own childhoods influence the ways that they currently feed their children. In this project, we will test and validate a survey tool on parents' childhood food insecurity experiences and interview parents to explore their views on how these experiences influence their current child-feeding practices. The focus will be on investigating whether such antecedent experiences pose a barrier to adopting responsive parenting and child-feeding practices that are promoted in programs like HCHF because they are associated with healthier child food intakes and weight. Research results will inform development of a conceptual model to guide future research as well as recommendations for CCE nutrition and parenting educators on strategies for helping parents to encourage healthful eating habits among their children.

Roles and Responsibilities

The intern will be based at CCE in Suffolk County, and also work with CCE in Nassau County. In collaboration with the faculty mentor, the student intern will refine cognitive testing and in-depth interview protocols and question guides, and request input from CCE staff on appropriate wording and topics. The intern will conduct cognitive testing of a brief survey tool on childhood food insecurity, testing parents' comprehension of intended meaning and ease of responding to questions, and conduct in-depth qualitative interviews with a small sample of parents on how food experiences over the life course have influenced their current feeding practices. The intern will work with CCE nutrition staff and partner organizations to recruit participants from the populations they serve, purposefully recruiting parents who have experienced food insecurity during their life course. The intern will conduct data analysis with regular oversight from mentors at Cornell and CCE. The intern will recommend revisions to the questionnaire based on results of cognitive testing. In-depth interview results will be reported to CCE staff and used to develop a 2-page report on program implications as part of the series of Research-to-Action Briefs posted on the Food and Nutrition Education in Communities website for CCE Educators. In addition, the intern will prepare a poster presentation to share at Cornell and contribute to a summary research report.

Qualifications and Previous Coursework

Must be a full time CHE freshman, sophomore or junior. Graduating seniors are not eligible. Must meet NYS Department of Motor Vehicle requirement, if applicable.
The student should have a background in community nutrition and familiarity with issues such as childhood obesity, food choice, food insecurity and its prevalence and consequences. The student should also have some background in human development and understand the importance of parenting styles and practices. Previous research experience and coursework on research methods (e.g. NS2450) is highly desirable. The student needs to have initiative, willingness and ability to work independently and travel within the community, and also be a collaborative team member. Given the nature of this project, the student should have excellent oral and written communication skills. The selected candidate will be trained and mentored in cognitive-testing and in-depth interviewing techniques, as well as qualitative data analysis.

Benefits and Skills

The student will gain qualitative research skills and become well-versed in the use of cognitive interviewing to improve the validity of research instruments. Through immersion in the research process, the intern will gain experience in many stages of planning, data collection, analysis and dissemination of results. S/he will also learn about food insecurity, parenting practices, nutrition education and childhood obesity prevention in the context of low-income families. Working within CCE in Suffolk County and Nassau County, the intern will have the opportunity to observe programs and outreach activities, participate in collaborative activities, and learn about the importance of community and inter-organizational relationships. This internship experience will be an opportunity to learn firsthand about the value of engaging with program staff and participants to learn from their perspectives when designing, conducting, and disseminating the results of applied research.