Health-related parenting behaviours across early childhood: Evidence from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal survey

Health-related parenting behaviours across early c…
01 Jun 2021


This study sought to understand how parenting behaviours that influence children’s health, such as the food provided to children, their exposure to tobacco smoke, and the provision of their screen time and physical activity, cluster together and change across early childhood.

Early childhood is a particularly sensitive time for children’s development and long-term health trajectories, and a period where broader population-level inequities in health first emerge. Thus, a better understanding of the more proximal determinants of health equity for children is potentially important for broader policy targets aimed at ameliorating these early socioeconomic and ethnic health inequities.

To shed light on the role of health-related parenting behaviours and children’s early health, this study had three primary research questions:

  1. What are the patterns of health-related parenting behaviours at different time points across the early childhood period?;
  2. How do socioeconomic and ethnic disparities in health-related parenting behaviours narrow or widen over early childhood?; and,
  3. Are these patterns of health-related parenting behaviours associated with inequities in children’s health in ways that might explain persistent socioeconomic and ethnic disparities?


To address these aims, this study uses data from Growing Up in New ZealandNew Zealand’s most recent longitudinal birth cohort study, representing a diverse sample of children born in 2009-2010 in the greater Auckland and Waikato regions. Data from the antenatal wave, along with waves when the children were 9-months, 2-years, and 4.5-years old were used, resulting in a sample of 5,795 children.

Key Results

The study found that most parents provided ‘healthful’ behavioural environments (eg, higher consumption of vegetables and fruit) for their children. As a child grew older, however, it became harder to exert healthful parenting behaviours. For example, at age 9-months, 76% of children were in the more ‘healthful’ parenting behaviour profile, but dropped to 40% of children in that profile when they were 2-years of age.

Children at the greatest risk of being exposed to less ‘healthful’ parental behaviours were those with mothers with lower educational attainment, tamariki Māori, Pacifica, and Asian children.

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