Pacific Islander Parents' Perceptions of Child Body Size and Feeding Practices

Wednesday, 1 August 2012: 10:30 AM

Jane H. Lassetter, PhD, RN1
Lauren Clark, PhD, RN, FAAN2
Jaclyn Coleman1
Va Mounga, MS, RN1
(1)College of Nursing, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
(2)College of Nursing, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to describe Pacific Islander parents’ perceptions of children’s body size and shape.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to explain Pacific Islander parents’ feeding practice and ways to encourage healthy feeding.


More than 42 million children five years of age and younger are overweight (WHO, 2011). Pacific Islander children have 60% greater prevalence of obesity than their grade-school peers (Shabbir, Kwan, Wang, Shih, & Simon, 2010). Parents tend to underestimate children’s weight which may hinder efforts to prevent childhood obesity (Tschamler, Conn, Cook, & Halterman, 2010). The purpose of this focused ethnography was to explore Pacific Islander parents’ perceptions of children’s size and shape and how they feed their own children.


In observation and serial interviews with 16 parents of Pacific Islander children 6 to 18 months of age, we explored parents’ perceptions about silhouettes of Pacific Islander children with increasing body weights and how they fed their children. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and reviewed. Photographs of two typical family days were taken and analyzed. We organized, categorized, and coded the data and held regular meetings to discuss findings, distill meaning, and identify themes. 


Themes related to parents’ perceptions include body size reveals clues about a child’s health, quality of parenting is reflected in a child’s size, and social monitoring assesses and responds to a child’s appearance. Themes related to feeding practices include desire to feed healthy food, efforts to feed healthy food, and ubiquitous presence of starchy foods.  


Efforts to prevent obesity in Pacific Islander populations will likely be more successful if based on a model focused on multi-generational family environments. Nurses can help parents of normal weight children by assuring them of their children’s weight appropriateness and helping them practice responses to criticism from peers and extended family. Efforts to feed healthy foods should be praised and culturally appropriate alternatives to starchy foods should be explored.