Understanding cultural factors contributing to obesity in Head Start Hispanic preschoolers: Perceptions from one county Head Start

Elizabeth Miller, Stephanie Nicely, Marisol del Teso-Craviotto, Geralyn Timler


Obesity rates among low-income Hispanic preschoolers are higher than those of whites, highlighting the need for understanding the cultural factors that may contribute to obesity. A survey was distributed to Hispanic Head Start families; preschooler body mass index (BMI) was calculated. Two focus groups examined caregiver perceptions about obesity and meal practices. The rate of overweight/obesity in the preschoolers was 44%, whereas, 79.4% of caregivers reported child weight as “normal.” Caregivers perceived “thinness” as a disadvantage, favored home-cooked meals, and expressed a desire for children to assimilate to mainstream foods. Obesity prevention within Head Start must account for caregiver perceptions of healthy weight and incongruities between cultural values/ practices and guidelines. Head Start practitioners must understand the influence that school foods/meal styles have on cultural meal practices at home and the influence of social networks on home health behaviors. An opportunity exists to educate families within their cultural social networks.


low-income; Hispanic; preschoolers; obesity prevention

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