Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Kinesiology and Health Promotion

First Advisor

Dr. Melinda Ickes


Establishing healthy eating behaviors is vital in the early years to help combat the development of obesity and other chronic diseases. Mothers play an invaluable role in shaping their children's eating habits through controlling what and when children eat as well as the overall food environment, which is why a better understanding of what influences mothers’ decisions about these behaviors is important.

The purpose of the dissertation was to gain a better understanding of what impacts maternal feeding decisions regarding toddler nutrition behaviors. This was a two-phased mixed methods study. The aim of the initial study was to explore, using a Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) framework, the influences on mothers’ toddler feeding decisions. These included attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control. These constructs were derived from discussions about what sources of nutrition information mothers use and trust. The aim of the subsequent study was to use the TPB to assess factors affecting a mother’s behavioral intention to provide their toddler with a healthy diet and to see if the addition of the parental role construction variable strengthened the TPB’s ability to significantly predict the mother’s behavioral intention.

The first study used a qualitative approach to gather data from three focus groups that consisted of mothers of toddlers (N = 15). Qualitative thematic analysis was used to define prominent themes. Four major themes emerged from the data analysis: (1) attitudes (subthemes: positive towards maternal role of feeding and negative towards the maternal role of feeding); (2) subjective norms positively accepted (subthemes: social media, pediatricians, and registered dietitians); (3) subjective norms negatively accepted (subthemes: pediatricians and registered dietitians); (4) perceived behavioral control (subthemes: acceptance, scarcity of time and outside influences).

An online survey was created using data gathered from the focus groups and a previously validated survey that fit the theoretical basis of the study. The survey utilized the TPB to assess the connections between the constructs and the mothers’ behavioral intentions surrounding toddler feeding. The final sample consisted of 148 mothers. The mean age was 32.83 (SD = 6.16) years. The majority of participants were married (87.2%), had earned a college degree or higher (79.7%), held part-time or fulltime employment, (60.8%), and were White (90.3%). The TPB model predicted 53% of the variance in mother’s behavioral intention surrounding the behavior of providing meals that include a wide variety of the five food groups in appropriate amounts. The addition of the parental role construction variable added 6% more predictive power to the model. The most salient predictors included attitude, perceived behavioral control, and parental role construction.

Mothers positively and negatively receive information from a variety of sources, they have many strong emotions associated with feeding that are deeply rooted in their roles as mothers, and their feeding decisions were strongly influenced by the TPB constructs. Health promotion efforts should aim to increase the mother’s sense of behavioral control and parental responsibility rather than focusing on the benefits of healthy eating. Programs should provide tangible ways to help mothers overcome perceived barriers and, in turn, increase mothers’ beliefs in their ability to provide toddlers with a balanced diet.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

George and Betty Blanda Endowed Professorship awarded to Dr. Melody Noland.