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Child Obes. 2012 Oct;8(5):466-76. doi: 10.1089/chi.2012.0067.

A qualitative study for understanding family and peer influences on obesity-related health behaviors in low-income African-American adolescents.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, 29208,



Given the cultural and developmental relevance of family members and peers in the lives of African-American adolescents, the present study used a bioecological framework to qualitatively explore the parenting context as well as specific family factors (support, rules, monitoring) and peer factors (support) related to weight status, physical activity (PA), and healthy eating in low-income African-American boys versus girls.


Qualitative data were obtained from African-American adolescents through focus groups. Adolescents (n = 45, 100% African American, 51% girls, 12.6 ± 1.2 years, 51% overweight/obese) were from two underserved communities in South Carolina (median income ≈$17,000-$22,000, high crime levels). Sessions were audiotaped, transcribed, and coded by independent pairs of raters (r = 0.75). QSR NVivo 8 was used to analyze data, and themes were categorized separately for boys and girls.


Adolescents reported themes of family warmth and control practices consistent with an authoritative style of parenting. Although adolescents wanted increased autonomy, they viewed parental monitoring as a favorable part of their relationship. Boys reported receiving more constructive feedback from parents about weight status and greater overall support for PA and diet than did girls. Girls reported more honest feedback from peers about weight status than did boys. Overall, adolescents acknowledged the unique opportunities of parents and peers in improving their health behaviors.


Findings suggest parents and peers interact in different ways with African-American boys and girls regarding their weight status and health behaviors. Future obesity prevention efforts in minority youth may need to target parenting skills that provide greater support to African-American girls. In addition, given peers influence PA and diet differently in boys and girls, interventions should strategically include parenting strategies that involve monitoring peer-adolescent interactions.

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