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

Worksite Location
Herkimer and Jefferson Counties, and Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University
Faculty Sponsor
Katherine Dickin, Research Scientist, Division of Nutritional Sciences
Field Mentors/Supervisors
Linda Robbins, Assistant Director/Nutrition Educator, CCE Herkimer; Amanda Root, Community Nutrition & Health Program Leader, CCE Jefferson
Stipend Amount
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 positive 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 have influenced the ways that they currently feed their children. In this project, we have begun developing a survey tool on parents' childhood food insecurity experiences, based on a series of interviews exploring how parents perceive and remember their past experiences with limited food access. The next step is to interview additional parents on how these memories, and related emotions and aspirations, influence their current child-feeding practices. The goal is to investigate whether such antecedent experiences pose a barrier to adopting responsive parenting and child-feeding practices that are promoted in programs like HCHF, to help families support healthy 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

Initially, the intern will be based at Cornell, working with the faculty mentor to learn how to conduct qualitative interviews and to help develop interview protocols and question guides based on relevant literature and the results of the first phase of the study. The intern will also request input from CCE county-based staff on appropriate wording and topics and on ideas for recruiting interview participants. Once the methodology is developed, the intern will spend time in CCE offices in Herkimer and Jefferson counties, learning about CCE nutrition programs and interacting with program staff to understand how research findings could be applied. 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. It is anticipated that the intern will conduct 10-15 interviews. If recruitment is difficult, additional county CCE nutrition programs will be approached to request their assistance with the research. The intern will transcribe and code interviews, and conduct preliminary data analysis in collaboration with the faculty mentor at Cornell. At the end of the internship, results on how food experiences over the life course have influenced current feeding practices will be reported to Herkimer and Jefferson County CCE staff and used to develop a brief report on program implications to be shared with CCE Educators through the Food and Nutrition Education in Communities website. In addition, the intern will prepare a poster presentation to share at Cornell and contribute to a summary research report or manuscript.

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 some 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/or coursework on research methods (e.g. NS2450) is highly desirable, as is experience working or volunteering with low-income populations. 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, and be a good listener. The selected candidate will be trained and mentored in in-depth interviewing techniques, as well as qualitative data coding and analysis.

Benefits and Skills

The student will gain qualitative research skills, including recruitment, in-depth interviewing, coding and analysis. 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 Jefferson and Herkimer Counties, the intern will have the opportunity to observe programs and outreach, participate in collaborative activities, and learn about the importance of community and inter-organizational relationships for nutrition and public health. 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.