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Setting limits in uneasy times – healthy diets in underprivileged families

Kia Ditlevsen (Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Annemette Nielsen (Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 12 December 2016




The purpose of this paper is to provide knowledge on barriers to preventive action on early childhood overweight in non-western migrant families. It investigates the underlying understandings of the parental role in relation to weight control present in health-care professionals and in families.


The study is based on qualitative interviews with parents who are engaged in interventions aimed at helping them and their children to adopt a healthier life style, and on interviews with health-care professionals.


This study shows that the participating parents, all low SES and living under different forms of insecurity, perceived their parental task for the present as creating well-being for their children, and they were, therefore, reluctant to enforce dietary changes. The health-care professionals, in contrast, considered the need for change through a perspective on future risks.

Research limitations/implications

The results are based on a rather small sample and the link between insecurity, family dynamics and health practice needs further research.


The participating parents represented a group that is rarely included in scientific research and the study, therefore, contributes valuable knowledge on health behavior in ethnic minority families. The empirical analysis provides new insights for health professionals regarding the suitability of the universal model of parental feeding styles. It illuminates the implications of implicitly applying this model in health interventions which involve vulnerable categories of parents such as refugees to western societies.



The authors are sincerely grateful to the families, home visitors and general practitioners who found time in their busy schedules to participate and provide indispensable information. The authors also wish to thank Jamie Dollahite (Cornell University) and Susanne Reventlow (University of Copenhagen) for useful comments on earlier versions of the text. This study is funded by the Danish Council for Strategic Research as part of the SULIM study ( The funding source had no involvement in any parts of this study.


Ditlevsen, K. and Nielsen, A. (2016), "Setting limits in uneasy times – healthy diets in underprivileged families", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 225-237.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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