Division of Pediatrics, Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; Department of Food Studies, Nutrition and Dietetics, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. Electronic address: [Email]
This study aims to understand the challenges parents of preschoolers with obesity face. We assessed parents' experiences of a group treatment program focused on parenting skills; the treatment program was evaluated in a randomized controlled trial in Stockholm County. After completing the program's 10 weekly sessions, parents were invited to participate in a semi-structured interview. The interviews were audio recorded, transcribed and analyzed using thematic analysis. In total, 36 parents (67% mothers, mean age 39 years, 33% foreign background, 50% with university degree) were interviewed. Two main themes were developed: Emotional burden and Skills and strength from others. Emotional burden encompassed the parents' experiences of raising a child with obesity. Parents spoke about the difficulties of managing their child's appetite and of seeking help and treatment, as well as their feelings about the social stigma attached to obesity. Skills and strength from others encompassed the parents' experiences of participating in group treatment. Parents reported that they appreciated the practical behavior change techniques taught, especially those regarding food and how to make everyday life more predictable, and said the focus on parenting skills gave them the confidence to apply the techniques in everyday life. Parents also highlighted the strength of the group setting, saying it enabled them to discuss perceived challenges and learn from other parents. Our findings show that childhood obesity carries social and emotional implications for parents, and that an intervention that provides parents with skill-building and a discussion space can help in negotiating these implications. This suggests that childhood obesity intervention programs benefit from including a parent-based approach which offers training in parenting skills and support in managing socially and emotionally challenging situations.