Mothers' explanatory models of lack of child growth

Elizabeth Reifsnider, Janet Allan, Melanie Percy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


This qualitative study elicited the explanatory models (EMs) of child growth held by mothers of growth-deficient children. EMs are culturally constructed explanations for a specific illness and its treatment (Kleinman, 1980). The EM concept was adapted for this study to focus on a child health condition instead of an illness. The sample comprised 22 mothers of growth deficient children who were interviewed 2 years after the conclusion of an intervention study to promote child growth. Growth deficiency was defined as below the 10th percentile for weight, height, or weight for height on the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) growth grids (Hamill, Drzid, Johnson, Reed, & Roche, 1976). Three major domains were identified in the EMs of growth held by mothers: (1) illness or heredity (etiology); (2) keeping track of growth (course); and (3) helping my child grow (treatment). The mothers in this study were concerned about their children's size and growth patterns and they monitored their children's growth with the methods available to them. They identified illnesses and allergies as environmental factors that negatively impact their children's growth. All mothers viewed size as a function of heredity. The findings from this study suggest that an emphasis on size will not encourage mothers to focus on their children's growth. The EMs for growth and size were different. Health care providers may be more effective in enhancing children's growth by teaching parents how to deal with the day-to-day problems of children who are picky eaters, stretching limited food money, creating mealtime schedules, and dealing with illnesses before they become severe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-442
Number of pages9
JournalPublic Health Nursing
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Child growth
  • Explanatory model
  • Growth deficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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