Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdottir has in her studies focused on children’s particular prerequisites for health and health lifestyles. Children’s lifestyle is intertwined with their parents’ lifestyle which in turn is to a great extent dependent upon how parents, under time pressure, attempts to live up to social norms and expectations. The studies have been carried out as part of two major Nordic research projects focusing on the lifestyle, health and well-being of children; Nordiska Livsstilsverkstan and NordChild.
Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdottir, reg. nurse and doctoral student of public health at the Nordic School of Public Health NHV, has from a parental perspective focused on the prerequisites for health and health promoting behavior in families with children. Her studies have shown that parents regard themselves as the most important actor when it comes to promoting a healthy lifestyle for their children. They also describe themselves as important role models and that the lifestyle of the children is intertwined with their parents’ lifestyle. Parents are also affected by the prevailing societal norms and expectations on family life and they strive to live up to these.
“Time pressure is by parents perceived as the main challenge regarding obtaining and maintaining a healthy everyday life. Parents strive to keep up with their duties of everyday life, work related as well as family related duties, and in addition they should cook healthy food, be physically active and spend quality time with their children”, says Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdottir.
The studies by Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdottir investigate the prerequisites for the lifestyle of families and their importance for the health of children in the five Nordic countries; Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The context of the studies is the Nordic welfare state, based on the particular conditions which exist for Nordic parents in terms of generous family policies which for example support workforce participation for both mothers and fathers and possibilities for parental leave. This has contributed to Nordic countries being regarded as some of the most gender equal in the world.
The NordChild studies are based on a questionnaire, sent to the registered caregiver 15 000 children for the third time in year 2011. It was addressed to the person regarded as the child’s primary caregiver; the one who had best knowledge about the children’s circumstances and in 84 % of the cases this person was the mother.
“Despite high ideals of equality in the Nordic family policies, it seems like it is still the mothers who carry the major responsibility for the childcare in the family, and thus it’s mainly the perceptions of the mothers our results represent”, says Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdottir.
The time pressure perceived by the participating mothers is related to financial stress and lack of social support. There are more mothers of younger children who perceive time pressure compared to mothers of teenagers. Among the “normbreaking” fathers who participated in the study, as the primary caregiver, time pressure could also be related to financial stress and lack of social support.
The experience of time pressure is a stressful factor in everyday life but what really constitutes the experience of time pressure needs further research. There have always been 24 hours a day and seven days a week and the experience of time pressure does not necessarily mean crude lack of time or hours. It could instead be a consequence of the social norms prevailing in society and existing expectations on parenthood and family, not the least in relation to the working life.
“All health promotion activities targeted towards children should take the conditions in the everyday life of families into account. It is first and foremost in the everyday life, with the family, that health is created and the healthy lifestyle is being formed”, Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdottir means.
In a society where stress related illnesses are significant risk factors for health, it is important to pay attention to the associations between experienced time pressure and health. The associations between the time pressure of parents and the health of children needs to be examined further which is also is the main aim of Gunnarsdottir’s next study.
Gunnarsdottir, H., Povlsen, L. & Ringsberg, KC. (2013). “Health lifestyle of pre-school children in the Nordic countries, parents’ perspectives”, Health Promotion International, doi: 10.1093/heapro/dat079
Gunnarsdottir, H., Petzold, M. & Povlsen, L. (2013). “Time pressure among parents in the Nordic countries: A population-based cross-sectional study”, Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, doi:10.1177/1403494813510984
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