Purpose - This article aims to explore the apparent paradox between the nutritional knowledge of
parents of pre-school children and their actual food purchase and preparation behaviour.
Design/methodology/approach - Two separate qualitative data collection exercises were
conducted, an exploratory focus group study in the UK and a projective technique study in Australia.
Findings - The UK study found that, despite believing that vegetables were good for children's
health, mothers also perceived that it was extremely difficult to encourage children to eat them. The
results of Australian study suggest that the purchase of unhealthy "treats" or "bribes" is explained
through the concept of "expediency" whereas what this study labels as "good parenting" emerged as
the main motivational force leading to the purchase of healthy food.
Research limitations/implications - The authors caution on any inappropriate generalisations
being based on the findings of this study. Further qualitative and quantitative empirical research is
suggested in settings different to those of this study.
Practical implications - The authors suggest that information- and education-based campaigns,
which simply emphasise the benefits of "healthy" food and the disbenefits of "unhealthy" food for
children will have limited impact on childhood obesity. Instead, future interventions need to
acknowledge the complex reality of parenting and the barriers and competition to healthy food
choices, and to offer parents meaningful help in food purchasing and preparation. An approach
suggested by the authors that acknowledges this complexity is that of social marketing.
Originality/value - This paper provides new insights into the food purchase and preparation behaviour
of parents and suggests alternative strategies for addressing the current childhood obesity epidemic.
Keywords Consumer behaviour, Parents, Children (age groups), Obesity, United Kingdom, Australia
Paper type Research paper