Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Agriculture - Food Science and Nutrition


Food Science and Nutrition


Dr Peggy Papathakis


In the U.S., obesity has hit alarming rates and affects Hispanic children disproportionately. Acculturation, the shift from one culture’s values, beliefs and practices to those of a new culture, may have both negative and positive health effects on immigrants. The objectives of this study were to determine the association between the level of acculturation (low acculturation or high acculturation) of low-income Latina mothers and the foods consumed by their children (0 to 36 months old). The association between acculturation and maternal perceptions of infant and toddler body size, maternal perceptions of her own body size and maternal parenting stress were also investigated. This was accomplished in 3 stages. First, data was collected cross-sectionally from 68 participants of WIC. Mothers answered many questionnaires including Food Frequency Questionnaires for their children, body size perception scale questionnaires and a parenting stress test. General linear regression models were performed to investigate an association between acculturation and food frequency, maternal perceptions of body size and parenting stress. Each model controlled for child’s age, maternal age, BMI (m/kg2) and education level. Second, key informant interviews were conducted with nine public health professionals to help gain a better understanding of some of our findings and to develop questions for the third stage: focus groups. Third, a total of 32 mothers participated in focus groups to discuss their perceptions on acculturation and child-feeding habits, and children’s body size. In addition, three mothers completed one-on-one interviews. From the cross-sectional analysis of the first study stage, the level of acculturation did not have a significant effect on any of the factors measured. For all mothers, however an increase in child’s age was associated with an increase in both the amount of healthy foods and less healthy foods consumed; an increase in mother’s BMI was associated with an increase in the children’s consumption of less healthy foods (beta coefficient of -0.042; p = 0.035). An increase in child’s age was associated with an increased likelihood of a mother to correctly estimate her own body size (beta coefficient of 0.041; p = 0.043). An increase in maternal BMI was associated with an increased likelihood to underestimate her own weight as well as that of her child. During the second stage, a theme emerged from the focus groups that the mothers try to feed the children the way they were fed growing up but they encounter difficulties when they can’t find the same ingredients and when their children start to prefer American foods. For all groups health was the number one factor they considered when choosing what to feed their children. The low acculturated mothers stated they wanted more education on how to assess if their child is at a healthy weight and admitted to not thinking about weight very much. In both groups, the mothers reported getting information about their child’s weight from health care professionals but many mothers from the bi acculturated group mentioned not believing the doctor when they told them their child was overweight. Overall, the findings suggest that children’s diets are not different by mother’s acculturation level and that the children start to prefer American foods from a young age. Parental education for several areas were identified: 1) for mothers to learn how to continue with the healthful aspects of a traditional diet 2) teach parents about appropriate stages of growth for their children; 3) when trying to teach about food focus on other areas of health rather than weight since weight does not seem to resonate as a concern.