Physical activity (PA) is associated with improved physical, mental, and overall health and reduced risk for chronic diseases [1
]. More specifically, physical inactivity is associated with childhood diabetes [5
], cancer [4
], cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality [3
]. Children ages 6 to 19 are recommended to attain 60 min per day of moderate to vigorous PA including muscle strengthening activities on at least three days per week [1
]. Yet, fewer children achieve PA recommendations as compared to past years [7
]. Further, rural communities experience disparities in PA participation often associated with unique barriers, including limited resources and amenities, limited transportation, and long distances to resources which disproportionally affect rural communities [8
Unfortunately, disparities based on race and ethnicity have also been reported in child PA as well as related health outcomes. Specifically, Latino/a populations experience disproportionate rates of obesity [12
], poor dietary habits [13
], diabetes [14
], physical inactivity [15
], and screen time [15
] when compared to other racial and ethnic groups. These disparities often times are related to one another and function as comorbidities. Given noted disparities, researchers must pay specific attention to understand cultural nuances in these populations. Further, individuals of Mexican-heritage integrate Latino/a and American culture which can negatively affect interaction with their host culture due to reduced acculturation (adoption of cultural practices and ideas) [16
]. In this way, adoption and adaptation of negative health behaviors linked to either the cultural practices of their traditional culture or their host culture can create obesogenic environments or unhealthy behaviors [16
]. This potential negative interaction creates the need to prioritize Mexican-heritage families and given supporting evidence, involve parents as agents of change in their child’s PA [17
Past intervention attempts to improve child PA have targeted different settings; mostly school [18
] and home-based [19
]. In a national sample, parents exhibited influential factors regarding child PA outcomes (e.g., organized and leisure time PA) [17
] leading to avenues of potential change. Parental and family influence has been established as a vector of change for child behaviors [17
]. However, the majority of child PA research has involved maternal participation with disproportionate lower involvement and recruitment of fathers [20
]. A recent review was conducted to highlight the lack of paternal involvement in child PA research [20
]. In this review, researchers revealed that only 10 studies included the voice of the father with all 10 consisting of cross sectional self-reported parenting practices and activity, and only four being conducted in the United States. Of these four, half were primarily focused on maternal participation [21
], two had less than 20% Latino/a participation [22
], one did not report parent sex [21
], and one did not report race or ethnicity [24
]. This dearth of knowledge underlines the need to understand the role of Latino and Mexican-heritage fathers.
Specifically, a focus group of 26 Latino fathers identifying as Mexican-heritage reported they set expectations for their child’s PA, provided logistic support for PA engagement (monetary and transport), and used role modeling as well as monitoring as ways to increase child PA [25
]. While this study is one of the first to examine the perspectives of the father within a Latino ethnic population, it does not specifically speak to the Mexican-heritage population who could potentially adhere to different cultural practices [16
]. These practices differ widely and are important to consider. For example, in a study investigating Mexican-heritage family engagement, mothers gave fathers low family engagement scores [26
], with researchers citing separate gender roles as a contributing factor [27
More research is needed to understand Mexican-heritage fathers, their feelings of responsibility in their families, and how it is related to child PA. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine Mexican-heritage father’s perceptions of their responsibilities within the home and activities with family members including co-participation in PA with their child (ren). As a descriptive and exploratory study, this article will provide vital information from the father’s point of view which is currently lacking.
This study investigated the role of Mexican-heritage fathers, their perceived responsibilities, and their activities. Specifically, this study examined paternal responsibilities and self-reported activities including child co-participation in PA. Previous research has identified mothers as primary caretakers within their homes [26
]; however, fathers reported many familial responsibilities as well as activities with their family but few specifically with children.
Fathers reported feeling responsible for the family expenses most often in this sample. This focus on expenses and providing for the family is consistent with research on father priorities in immigrant families [35
]. Further, previous literature has found that Latino fathers engaged less in child caregiving than fathers identified as other race and ethnic groups [36
]. While financial support is a significant tangible support for child PA [37
], many Latino fathers report financial and time constraints related to providing for the family as barriers to being engaged in childcare activities including PA co-participation [25
]. This perceived lack of time children may also correspond to the lack of activities reported specifically with their children.
Fathers reported doing most activities alone or with the family as a whole. In past research, fathers who reported being physically active with more family members, as opposed to friends, attained significantly more daily moderate-to-vigorous PA [38
]. Latino fathers report wanting to do things with their children and be a role model when it comes to PA, but also report a lack of knowledge or information on how to support healthy eating and activity behaviors for their children [25
]. Filling this knowledge or skill gap may provide fathers with the confidence to support healthy child PA behaviors.
After separating children by sex, fathers reported participating in outside chores more often with their sons than with their daughters. However, fathers were more likely to report doing sedentary activities with daughters than with their sons. Our findings reflect previous research showing fathers are more involved in the lives of their sons [39
] and that boys are more active than girls in moderate to vigorous activities that include sports [40
]. These sex disparities are concerning and could be addressed through co-participation in activities including fathers engaging in outside chores and sport activities with children. Promotion of these activities, with a highlight on co-participation with daughters, would be a simple intervention strategy as fathers within this population often reported doing these activities with their sons.
Positively, fathers within Mexican-heritage culture hold specific cultural beliefs that increase selflessness (familism: placing family interest and development ahead of personal growth [41
]), responsibility, and connectedness which could be used alongside educational materials to decrease activities done alone (positive machismo [42
]). Future programmatic efforts need to be culture specific to incorporate familism and positive machismo concepts within child PA to increase engagement, decrease PA done alone, and help fathers understand their role and importance within child PA as well as ways to engage with their children in PA.
Building on these results, future intervention development should work with fathers to identify ways of building in more outdoor PA time with children and specifically girls. Paternal presence during outdoor child PA could help decrease feelings of danger that mothers often report as the reason for not allowing outdoor play within their neighborhoods [44
], activity in parks, and active transportation [45
], specifically for daughters. These are important considerations as researchers have shown that increasing perceptions of safety can increase child PA while also decreasing risk of physical and social disorders [46
4.2. Strengths and Limitations
One strength of this study was the open-ended design of elicitation survey items. This removed researcher bias in an unexplored area by allowing fathers to report what they felt was important without being led by researcher driven motives and/or ideas that are possible when pre-set response items are provided. Intentional and iterative promotora feedback during survey development both in content and translation greatly strengthened validity and reliability of our findings. This study also benefited from a robust sample of Mexican-heritage fathers (n = 300) which is lacking in current literature. Additionally, incorporating dual coding methods helped to establish validity and reliability.
Despite the strengths, the survey did not specifically ask fathers to quantify time spent with children. Future work should assess the duration of paternal time with children as it may be underestimated if fathers reported family time and children time together in the current study. Although we cannot disaggregate family time, we were able to compare reported activities between daughters and sons which can be used to inform intervention strategies.