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Perceptions of Preventive Health Care and Healthy Lifestyle Choices for Low Income Families: A Qualitative Study

DOI: 10.5402/2013/189180

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This paper examines Head Start parents’ perceptions of preventive health and healthy lifestyle choices and Head Start administrators’ perceptions of the needs of parents they serve. To address the preventive health of the population, it is necessary that we explore perceptions, risks, and protective factors of preventive health. Focus groups were conducted with parents and administrators to elicit this information and to obtain suggestions for improving preventive health and healthy lifestyle choices among this group. Overall, nutrition and physical activity emerged as themes in parents’ definition of preventive health and healthy lifestyle choices. They further identified social support and education as major protective factors for engaging in preventive health and healthy lifestyle choices. Results of this study can be used to inform research and practice to develop interventions to increase preventive health and healthy lifestyle choices among low income families. 1. Introduction Low income persons in the USA are less likely to seek preventive health care and have low health literacy, which places them at risk for poorer health outcomes and increased use of treatment services [1–3]. Health literacy may impact on individual’s ability to successfully use the health care system and to engage in preventive care and disease management [4]. In the case of parents of young children, low health literacy may compromise their ability to seek or engage in preventive care for themselves and their children. According to the Institute of Medicine [1], older adults, racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with less than a 12th grade education, GED certificate recipients, nonnative English speakers, and individuals with low incomes are all more likely to have low health literacy. Individuals with these demographic characteristics are also more likely to be socially disadvantaged and thus further disadvantaged on health. Although a plethora of research exists on the effects of health literacy on adult health, relatively less research has been conducted to address the impact of parental health literacy on the health and well-being of children. Children, especially preschool-aged children, are vulnerable to their environment [5] and rely heavily on their parents to ensure their health and well-being. Based on the adult studies, therefore, parents’ health literacy is postulated to influence the preventive health measures parents pursue for their children. 2. The Head Start Program The Head Start Program was established in 1964 as part of the “war on poverty.” This

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