A Socio-Ecocultural Exploration of the Role of Latinx Youth in Family Food Practices

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By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Children and adolescents (hereafter referred to as youth) make critical contributions in support of their families on a daily basis through what are called family assistance behaviors. One key example of these behaviors includes involvement in family food practices (e.g., cooking meals). Despite the significance for public health challenges related to dietary-health outcomes, such as high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension, very little is known about the contributions made by youth via family food practices; nor do we know what individual-, family-, and macro-level factors may influence youth’s participation in these practices. Given these gaps in the literature, this dissertation sought to investigate the role of youth in family food practices using participatory focus groups and in-depth interviews embedded within an ethnographic fieldwork period. This work places a central focus on youth involvement in family food preparation among Latinx families, framing this construct as an example of a family assistance behavior critical for family functioning and health. The following four aims were investigated: 1) developing a framework for understanding youth’s contributions to family functioning and health, 2) exploring youth’s perspectives surrounding their participation within family food preparation, 3) examining the sociocultural and developmental factors that may inhibit or promote youth’s participation in food preparation as perceived by youth, and 4) exploring families’ motivations for and barriers to involving youth in family food preparation. A total of 14 families participated in this series of studies. Sixteen participatory focus groups were conducted with 23 youth (52% boys; Mage = 12.4 ± 2.9 years). Eleven in-depth interviews were conducted with parents (91% mothers; Mage = 39.5 ± 6.1 years). Interviews with parents were followed by in-depth interviews with six youth who were described as being frequently involved in family food preparation (83% girls; Mage = 15.5 ± 1.8 years). Thematic analyses revealed that youth were involved in family food preparation at varying levels, where youth contributed as consumers, dishwashers, kitchenhands, and/or sous chefs. This variation was influenced by gender, age, and birth order, with older girl siblings being more involved in family food preparation. Family constraints, such as late work schedules for parents and poor parental health, as well as family values and cultural beliefs, shaped youth involvement in family food preparation. More than 25% of youth were frequently involved in preparing meals for the entire family. These youth emphasized the utility in possessing cooking skills and noted the unique bond fostered with family members, particularly mothers, due to this involvement. These findings highlight the crucial, yet often ignored, role that youth play in family food practices, underscoring the importance of exploring youth as agents of change for health promotion. This dissertation not only presents both conceptual-based and data-based evidence of the unique contributions to health and functioning made by on a daily basis, but also provides a socio-ecocultural account of what youth’s contributions mean for themselves and their families. Future research should investigate pathways to increasing youth agency, competency, and self-efficacy for better health and well-being. Acknowledging the role that Latinx youth play in family functioning and health may help guide our understanding of family roles and may aid in identifying potential targets for prevention and intervention that promote health equity and improve well-being among this underserved population.

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