Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing



First Advisor

Diane Martins


Childhood obesity is recognized as an important health problem in the United States. Researchers have identified culture and acculturation as major factors influencing obesity across several ethnic groups, although little is known about the historically invisible and vulnerable population of those identifying as Arabic speaking individuals from Middle Eastern countries. In Arabic culture, mothers are responsible for creating and maintaining a home environment that fosters healthy eating behaviors among family members including the children. It is assumed, therefore, that mothers in Arabic culture play an essential role in preventing childhood obesity.

The aim of this study was to explore perceptions of motherhood and childhood nutritional beliefs and practices of Arabic speaking Middle Eastern mothers now living in the US. The long term aim is to provide nurses with the knowledge needed to enhance their practice as community/public health nurses in school and community health settings. An inductive, descriptive, qualitative research design, including 2 semi structured in-depth interviews with each of 12 mothers from Arabic speaking Middle Eastern countries (Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia). Age range was 28-51. Six mothers finished high school, four had a bachelor degree, one had an associate degree, and one had not finished high school. Years as a mother ranged from 10-30 years. All the mothers were Muslims. Research questions were: What are Arabic speaking Middle Eastern women’s perceptions of motherhood in relation to raising children and have these changed after moving to the US? What are the womens’ perceptions of healthy children, and their nutritional beliefs and practices related to children and have theses changed after moving to the US? What enablers and constraints have the women encountered in trying to foster their nutritional practices while living in the US?

The women in this study all agreed that motherhood involves caring responsibly, and feeling warmth, kindness and love for their children, as well as most wanting their children to be successful. In addition they agreed that their perceptions of motherhood were affected by the birth of their first child and by living in the US, including new responsibilities and/or a deeper and more expansive level of responsibility. The essential component of these Middle Eastern Arabic speaking mothers’ nutritional beliefs is that food and family is central to everyday life. Enablers that helped this group of women to practice their nutritional beliefs included: (1) mother’s knowledge and communication skills; (2) children’s familiarity with Arabic tradition from a very young age; (3) access to families with a similar cultural background and (4) access to desired items of food and ingredients. Constraints that restricted the mothers ability to foster their nutritional practices included: (1) mother’s inability to cook; (2) inability to eat together as family; (3) frequent availability of snacks at home; (4) negative influence of family members; (5) negative influence of peers in school; (6) long distance to Arabic food stores; and (7) the high cost of organic food.



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