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Family leadership styles and adolescent dietary and physical activity behaviors: a cross-sectional study Morton, Katie L; Wilson, Alexandra H; Perlmutter, Lisa S; Beauchamp, Mark R Apr 30, 2012

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RESEARCH Open AccessFamily leadership styles and adolescent dietaryand physical activity behaviors: a cross-sectionalstudyKatie L Morton1*, Alexandra H Wilson2, Lisa S Perlmutter2 and Mark R Beauchamp2AbstractBackground: Transformational leadership is conceptualized as a set of behaviors designed to inspire, energize andmotivate others to achieve higher levels of functioning, and is associated with salient health-related outcomes inorganizational settings. Given (a) the similarities that exist between leadership within organizational settings andparenting within families, and (b) the importance of the family environment in the promotion of adolescent health-enhancing behaviors, the purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the cross-sectional relationshipsbetween parents’ transformational leadership behaviors and adolescent dietary and physical activity behaviors.Methods: 857 adolescents (aged 13–15, mean age = 14.70 yrs) completed measures of transformational parentingbehaviors, healthful dietary intake and leisure-time physical activity. Regression analyses were conducted to examinerelationships between family transformational leadership and adolescent health outcomes. A further ‘extreme groupanalysis’ was conducted by clustering families based on quartile splits. A MANCOVA (controlling for child gender)was conducted to examine differences between families displaying (a) HIGH levels of transformational parenting(consistent HIGH TP), (b) LOW levels of transformational parenting (consistent LOW TP), and (c) inconsistent levels oftransformational parenting (inconsistent HIGH-LOW TP).Results: Results revealed that adolescents’ perceptions of family transformational parenting were associated withboth healthy dietary intake and physical activity. Adolescents who perceived their families to display the highestlevels of transformational parenting (HIGH TP group) displayed greater healthy eating and physical activity behaviorsthan adolescents who perceived their families to display the lowest levels of transformational parenting behaviors(LOW TP group). Adolescents who perceived their families to display inconsistent levels of transformationalparenting behaviors (HIGH-LOW TP group) displayed the same levels of healthy eating behaviors as thoseadolescents from the LOW TP group. For physical activity behaviors, adolescents who perceived their families todisplay inconsistent levels of transformational parenting behaviors (HIGH-LOW TP group) did not differ in terms ofphysical activity than those in either the HIGH TP or LOW TP group.Conclusions: Family transformational parenting behaviors were positively associated with both healthful dietaryintake and leisure-time physical activity levels amongst adolescents. The findings suggest that transformationalleadership theory is a useful framework for understanding the relationship between family leadership behaviors andadolescent health outcomes.Keywords: Family, Leadership, Parenting, Adolescent health, Physical activity, Nutrition* Correspondence: km576@medschl.cam.ac.uk1Primary Care Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Instituteof Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 0SR, UKFull list of author information is available at the end of the article© 2012 Morton et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the CreativeCommons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, andreproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.Morton et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:48http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/9/1/48BackgroundUnhealthy lifestyles characterized by poor nutrition andsedentary behaviors are associated with a range of healthproblems during youth and, if continued into adulthood,may contribute to the development of chronic conditionssuch as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, certaincancers and osteoporosis [1,2]. Research has demonstratedthat the home environment is especially important for fos-tering adolescent health, as families (especially parents)represent potential role models and sources of support fornumerous health behaviors [3-6].Good leadership has long been recognized as imperativefor the effective growth and development of organizations[7,8], and it has been suggested that the same is requiredwithin families in order to establish a climate and familyculture that is conducive to healthy adolescent develop-ment [9,10]. In spite of the need for effective leadership infamilies, theory and research in this area are limited. Themajority of research surrounding families and adolescenthealth has predominantly focused on parenting styles andparenting practices [11-14], with little attention given tothe role of effective leadership behaviors displayed by par-ents, and how family leadership behaviors might impactupon adolescent health.The theoretical framework utilized in the present studycorresponds to transformational leadership theory [15].Transformational leadership was originally conceptualizedin organizational settings and has grown to become themost widely utilized model of leadership of the past twodecades [16]. There are two reasons why this framework ispertinent to our understanding of families and adolescenthealth. First, transformational leadership behaviors are inmany ways synonymous with effective parenting behaviors[17]. For example, both transformational leadership andparenting are concerned with influencing others towardscommon goals and objectives and involve inspiring andmotivating others to take ownership and self-regulate theirown behaviors in order to achieve these goals. Furthermore,effective parenting and transformational leadership requiremutual trust, integrity and empathy to enhance the rela-tionship quality that exists between leader and follower. It isthese conceptual similarities that make transformationalleadership theory a particularly viable framework for under-standing the role of family leadership behaviors in the pro-motion of adolescent health.Second, transformational leadership has been studied arange of organizations and settings, including the military[18,19], businesses [20,21], sport [22,23], physical education[24,25] and more recently, parenting [10,26]. This researchhas consistently demonstrated that transformational leader-ship behaviors are associated with a host of adaptive out-comes among those being led, such as greater motivation[22,24], self-efficacy [20,26,27], well-being [26,28], andachievement [21,29]. Furthermore, a growing body ofexperimental research has demonstrated that transform-ational leadership can be taught and developed throughshort-term intervention [30]. This highlights the importantutility of extending transformational leadership to the familydomain with a view to understanding and potentiallyfostering family transformational leadership behaviors tobring about improved adolescent health outcomes.So what exactly is transformational leadership? Thisstyle of leadership involves behaviors that empowerand inspire those being led to achieve higher levelsof functioning [15]. When applied to the parentingdomain [cf. 9], and consistent with transformationalleadership theory [8,15] transformational parenting com-prises four key behavioral dimensions namely idealized in-fluence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulationand individualized consideration. Idealized influence takesplace when the parent behaves as a role model, throughthe demonstration of their own values, and includes beha-viors that engender the trust and respect of their children.Inspirational motivation involves behaviors that inspireand energize their children to fulfill their potential, andwhereby parents are optimistic about what their childrencan achieve. Intellectual stimulation occurs when parentsencourage their children to think for themselves and toapproach old problems in new ways. Finally, individualizedconsideration involves behaviors that display a genuinesense of care, concern and compassion and take into con-sideration children’s unique developmental needs.In the first empirical study to extend transformationalleadership theory to the parenting and adolescent healthdomain Morton and colleagues [26] developed a measureof transformational parenting for use with adolescents anddemonstrated positive associations between adolescents’perceptions of transformational parenting and greater self-regulatory efficacy for healthy eating and physical activity.The focus of the present study was to extend this line of re-search and explore associations between adolescents’ per-ceptions of transformational parenting behaviors that existwithin families and two salient adolescent health-enhancingbehaviors, namely healthy dietary intake and leisure-timephysical activity. Indeed, a limitation of the Morton et al.[26] study was that actual health behaviors were notexamined.Furthermore, in this preliminary study by Morton et al.,the role of individual parents’ (mothers and fathers) wasexplored rather than taking into consideration the influenceof multiple (i.e., which is typically two) parents within thefamily unit. Within the leadership literature, participantsare typically asked to rate the behaviors of a single leader towhom an employee directly reports [31]. Thus, little isknown about the effects of having two (or more) leadershipfigures that may be consistent in their levels of trans-formational leadership (either both displaying highlevels of transformational leadership behaviors or bothMorton et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:48 Page 2 of 9http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/9/1/48displaying relatively low levels) or perhaps the casewhere one leader is highly transformational and theother displays relatively low levels of transformational lead-ership. Nevertheless, in the organizational psychology lit-erature, it has been suggested that having multiple leadersoperate through consistent displays of transformationalleadership (i.e., both leaders displaying high levels of trans-formational leadership behaviors) may have a positive ef-fect on followers’ motivation, whereby each leader’sbehavior can complement or reinforce those of another[31]. In such instances the effects of each leader may beadditive. Similarly, in the parenting literature, it is arguedthat having two authoritative parents is better than one,and having one is better than having none, even if itmeans the parents do not see eye to eye in terms of theirrespective parenting approaches [32]. Although researchhas demonstrated that within two-parent familiesmothers’ and fathers’ behaviors are usually moderatelyto highly correlated [33,34] an interesting questionrelates to the cases where one parent in the family unitis perceived to display high levels of transformationalparenting behaviors and the other perceived as display-ing low levels of transformational parenting behaviors.For example, is one parent displaying high levels oftransformational parenting behaviors sufficient to bringabout adaptive health-related outcomes in adolescentsor are both parents (i.e., the entire family unit) requiredto display high levels of transformational parenting(reflecting inter-parental consistency) in order to posi-tively predict adolescent health behaviors?With this in mind, it was hypothesized that (a) adoles-cents’ perceptions of family transformational parentingbehaviors would be associated with improved dietary intakeand greater leisure-time physical activity and (b) that ado-lescents’ who perceive their families to display consistenthigh levels of transformational parenting behavior (consist-ent HIGH TP) would display more healthy eating andphysical activity behaviors than those families perceived todisplay consistently low levels of transformational parenting(consistent LOW TP). It was further hypothesized thatadolescents who perceived their families to display incon-sistent levels of transformational parenting (HIGH-LOWTP) would display healthier eating and greater physical ac-tivity behaviors than families in the consistently LOW TPgroup, but less health enhancing behaviors than the con-sistently HIGH TP group.MethodsParticipantsParticipants were 857 adolescents between 13 and 15 years(Mage=14.70 yrs; 426 males, 426 females, with 5 who didnot specify their gender)1. No other inclusion/exclusion cri-teria (other than aged 13–15) were specified. Participantswere recruited from thirty five classes in four schools inthe Lower Mainland of British Columbia (Canada), andrepresented a diverse range of ethnic and socioeconomicbackgrounds. Specifically, 21% of adolescents identifiedthemselves as Canadian, 27% Canadian-Asian, 40% Asian(of this 40%, the majority (28%) identified themselves asChinese, 4% Korean, 3% Filipino, 3% Vietnamese and 2%‘other’), 5% East Indian and 7% ‘other ethnicities’. Thecomposition of the sample was representative of the ethniccomposition of this area of Canada.ProceduresEthical approval was obtained from the Research EthicsBoard at the University of British Columbia, along withSchool Board approval. Potential schools were contactedand once schools had elected to participate, a descriptionof the study was provided to students via an announce-ment during class and also an information letter. Inaddition, parents were sent a letter that informed themof the purpose of the study and provided them with theopportunity to decline participation (passive parentalconsent procedures). Two weeks after letters were pro-vided to both adolescents and parents, adolescents wereinvited to complete a questionnaire package during apre-arranged class. Adolescent consent was denoted byadolescents electing to complete the questionnaire.MeasuresTransformational parentingAdolescents’ perceptions of parents’ transformational beha-viors were assessed using the Transformational ParentingQuestionnaire [TPQ; 26]. In the present study, adolescentscompleted either one (single parent family) or two (dualparent family) separate TPQ’s for their family. The 16-itemTPQ contains separate subscales designed to measure thefour dimensions of transformational parenting, with fouritems per subscale. Items on the TPQ are prefixed with thestem “My parent/guardian. . .” with exemplar items includ-ing “acts as a person that I look up to” (idealized influence),“Is optimistic about what I can accomplish” (inspirationalmotivation), “Gets me to think for myself” (intellectualstimulation), and “Displays a genuine interest in my life”(individualized consideration). Responses are anchored ona six-point rating scale from 0 (strongly disagree) to 5(strongly agree). Morton and colleagues [26] provided evi-dence for construct validity of measures derived from theTPQ, with the most parsimonious operationalizationrepresented by a higher-order dimension of “transform-ational parenting”, that is measured by scores derived fromthe four transformational parenting subscales. In thepresent study, the subscales were summed to yield totaltransformational parenting scores between 0 and 80,where higher scores suggest a higher level of perceivedtransformational parenting behaviors. This higher-ordermeasure of transformational parenting was used, andMorton et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:48 Page 3 of 9http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/9/1/48demonstrated acceptable internal consistency for bothmothers’ (Cronbach α= .95) and fathers’ scores (Cronbachα= .96).Dietary behaviorsAdolescents’ dietary behaviors were assessed using theAdolescent Food Habits Checklist [AFHC; 35]. This in-strument was designed specifically for adolescents andrequires participants to complete 23 items pertaining tofat and fibre (i.e., “I usually avoid eating fried foods”),simple sugars (i.e., “I often buy pastries or cakes”), andfruit and vegetable intake (i.e., “I usually eat at least oneserving of vegetables (excluding potatoes) or salad withmy evening meal”). Items were scored as true, false, ornot applicable. In order to calculate a dietary behaviorscore [cf. 35], all items representing healthy food choicesand behaviors were given a value of 1 and the final scorewas adjusted for the “not applicable” and missingresponses using the formula: AFHC=number of healthyresponses x (23/number of items completed). Previousresearch with this instrument has demonstrated accept-able internal reliability (Cronbach’s α= 0.82) and evi-dence for convergent validity on measures derived fromthe AFHC in relation to other measures of dietary fat in-take (r =−.46), daily fruit and vegetable intake (r = .45), aswell as dietary restraint (r = .17) with adolescents [35].Leisure time physical activityLeisure-time physical activity was measured using theGodin Leisure-time Exercise Questionnaire [LTEQ; 36].This instrument requires participants to report the num-ber of times they participate in strenuous, moderate andlight exercise during a typical week (for more than 15minutes). A total score was calculated by multiplying theweekly frequencies of strenuous, moderate, and light ac-tivities by 9, 5, and 3, respectively, for a total metabolic-equivalent intensity value. This instrument has been usedwith adolescents and demonstrated adequate test-retestreliability coefficients (.69< r< .96), and acceptable evi-dence for concurrent validity through significant correla-tions with other self-report instruments (r = .32). Inaddition, measures derived from this instrument havebeen shown to have acceptable criterion-related validity(r = .36) with accelerometry measures [37].Data analysisPreliminary analysesPrior to analyses, data were screened for missing values,accuracy of data entry, outliers and normality. In termsof normality, all the skewness values ranged from .28 to1.71 and the kurtosis values ranged from .32 to 5.03 forall variables which indicates similarity to the normalcurve [38]. Examination of the assumptions associatedwith regression analyses (i.e., normality, linearity andhomoscedasticity) suggested that there were no problemsin the data. Finally, the Durbin–Watson statistic wasemployed as a diagnostic check for bias resulting fromcorrelated errors terms. These values were in the recom-mended range (1.79–1.89) for all reported equations[39]. As some adolescents had missing data for some ofthe variables (<5% missing data), the number differedslightly between different analyses, as indicated below(only complete cases were utilized in the analysis).In the majority of cases, the family unit is comprisedof two parents (a mother and a father). Consistent withother family research [40,41] adolescents’ perceptions ofthe leadership behaviors of both parents was averaged, totake into account any compensating effects that may existif one parent is perceived as highly transformational andthe other parent is perceived as low in transformationalbehaviors. In families where only one parent was specified(i.e., single parent families) compensating effects do not takeplace and, as such, in these instances a single parentingscore was utilized. This score is reflective of the family unit(regardless of whether the family is comprised of one ortwo parents), and represented the ‘family transformationalleadership’ as perceived by the adolescent. This score wasused in the subsequent regression analyses. Thirty-two ado-lescents completed the TPQ with reference to a guardianother than a parent (i.e., aunt, uncle, grandmother, grand-father). These cases were excluded from the analyses (theseincluded cases where two TPQ’s were completed for a bio-logical parent and another relative). Descriptive statistics,including unadjusted means, standard deviations, and inter-correlations between the study variables are presented inTable 1.Regression analysisTwo separate hierarchical regression analyses were per-formed on the entire data set (n= 822 for dietary beha-viors and n= 798 for physical activity behaviors) with‘family transformational leadership’ specified as the inde-pendent variable and adolescent health behaviors (dietaryand physical activity) as the dependent variables. In orderto control for the influence of key demographic variableson dietary and physical activity behaviors, child gender(1=Male, 2 =Female), child ethnicity (1=Caucasian,2=Non-Caucasian) and family structure (1=Single-parentTable 1 Unadjusted means, standard deviations, andintercorrelations for the study variablesM SD 1 2 31. Family Transformational Leadership 60.280 13.705 – .271* .141*2. Adolescent Healthy Eating Behavior 12.911 4.878 – .0253. Adolescent Physical Activity 55.903 32.567 –Notes: n= 822. Family transformational parenting scores range from 0–80.Healthy eating scores range from 0 to 23. Physical activity score ranges from0–225. M= unadjusted means. SD= standard deviations * p< .01.Morton et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:48 Page 4 of 9http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/9/1/48family, 2 =Dual-parent family) were first entered into theanalyses for each regression analyses (step 1). Followingthis, the ‘family transformational leadership’ score wasentered in order to determine the relationship between ado-lescent perceptions of transformational parenting behaviorsand adolescent health behaviors (step 2).Extreme group comparisonsA further examination of the relationships between familytransformational leadership and adolescent health beha-viors was conducted via extreme group comparisons. Anextreme group approach (EGA) is a useful strategy in ex-ploratory analyses as this approach increases statisticalpower and enhances the detection of general trends thatmight be overlooked with the inclusion of a full range ofdata [42]. Using a quartile split procedure on the entiredata set (n=825), parents were classified as ‘high trans-formational’ (i.e., parent scored above 75th percentile onTPQ) or ‘low transformational’ (i.e., parent scored below25th percentile on TPQ). A HIGH TP family consisted ofboth the mother and father scoring above the 75th per-centile, a LOW TP family consisted of both the motherand father scoring in the 25th percentile, and a HIGH-LOW TP family consisted of one parent scoring above the75th percentile and the other parent scoring in the 25thpercentile (in the case of single parent families, the oneparent for which data was provided was also consideredand utilized in the analysis; i.e., single parent scores above75th percentile were grouped in the HIGH TP group andsingle parent scores within the 25th percentile weregrouped in the LOW TP group). In Table 2, adolescentdietary and physical activity behavior means (and standarddeviations) of the three extreme groups (HIGH TP family,LOW TP family and HIGH-LOW TP family) arepresented.First, three one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) werecomputed to examine whether the three groups differed interms of key demographic variables. This indicated thatthere were no differences in ethnicity between the threegroups (F (2, 336) =1.954, p= .143). However, the threegroups were different in terms of gender (F (2, 334)=3.951, p= .020), with more female adolescents reportedin the HIGH TP group than the LOW TP group (p= .020).There were no differences between the HIGH-LOW TPgroup and either the HIGH or LOW TP groups withregards to adolescent gender (p= .524) With regards tofamily structure (single versus dual parents), there were nodifferences between the HIGH and LOW TP groups(p= .103)2. Therefore, in the subsequent analyses only‘gender’ was specified as a covariate. A multivariate ana-lysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was performed in orderto examine differences in adolescent health behaviors(while controlling for child gender) that exist between (a)families whereby the family unit was perceived by the ado-lescent to display (consistent) high levels of transform-ational behaviors (i.e., both parents above the 75thpercentile for transformational parenting; HIGH TP family),(b) families whereby the family unit was perceived by theadolescent to display (consistent) low levels of transform-ational behaviors (i.e., both parents below the 25th percent-ile; LOW TP family), and (c) families in which parents wereperceived to display inconsistent transformational behaviors(i.e., one parent perceived as displaying HIGH transform-ational behaviors and one parent perceived as displayingLOW transformational parenting; HIGH-LOW TP family).Follow up univariate F tests were computed to examine dif-ferences between groups for dietary and physical activitybehaviors.ResultsRegression analysesDietary behaviorsResults of the hierarchical regression analysis indicatedthat step 1 was significant (F (3,818) =9.129, p< .001,Radjusted2 = .029). Gender contributed significantly to diet-ary behaviors (b =1.603, (95% CI =0.945, 2.262), p< .001)in the direction that female adolescents reported morehealthy dietary behaviors than male adolescents. Familystructure also contributed to dietary behaviors (b= .821,(95% CI =0.051, 1.590), p= .037) in the direction thatadolescents from two parent families reported morehealthy eating behaviors than did adolescents from singleparent families. Ethnicity did not contribute to dietarybehaviors (b=−.207, (95% CI =−1.00, 0.586), p= .609).After controlling for the effects of gender, family struc-ture and ethnicity in step 1, family transformationalTable 2 Comparisons of high transformational, low transformational and high-low transformational familiesHigh TransformationalParenting Families(HIGH TP family)LowTransformationalParenting Families(LOW TP family)One High-OneLow TransformationalParenting Families(HIGH-LOW TP family)η2M SD M SD M SDHealthy Eating 14.642 4.633 11.331 4.966 11.386 3.978 .106*Physical Activity 59.315 27.917 48.467 29.245 57.648 42.376 .031*Notes: n= 137 for HIGH TP families, n= 165 for LOW TP families and n=26 for HIGH-LOW TP families. Healthy eating scores range from 0 to 23. Physical activityscore ranges from 0–225. For η2, .01 corresponds to a small effect, .06 to a medium effect and .14 to a large effect [38].M= adjusted means. SD = standard deviations. η2= eta squared. * p< .01.Morton et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:48 Page 5 of 9http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/9/1/48parenting contributed significantly to dietary behaviors(F (1,817) =56.56, p< .001, Radjusted2 = .090, ΔR2 = .062.Adolescent perceptions’ of higher family transformationalparenting scores predicted more healthy eating behaviors(b=0.090, (95% CI= 0.066, 0.113), p< .001).Physical activityResults of the hierarchical regression analysis indicatedthat step 1 was significant (F (3,794) =12.603, p< .001,Radjusted2 = .042). Gender contributed significantly tophysical activity behaviors (b=−8.634, (95% CI=−13.068,-4.200), p< .001) in the direction that males reportedgreater leisure time physical activity than females. Ethni-city also contributed to physical activity (b=−12.089, (95%CI = −17.414, -6.764), p< .001) in the direction thatCaucasian adolescents reported more physical activitybehaviors than non-Caucasian adolescents. Family struc-ture did not contribute to physical activity (b = −3.791,(95% CI = −9.002, 1.421), p = .154). After controlling forthe effects of gender, family structure and ethnicity instep 1, family transformational parenting contributedsignificantly to leisure-time physical activity behaviors(F (1,793) =20.195, p< .001, Radjusted2 = .064, ΔR2 = .024).Adolescent perceptions’ of higher family transform-ational parenting scores predicted greater leisure timephysical activity behaviors (b = 0.369, (95% CI = 0.208,0.503), p< .001).Extreme group comparisonsThe omnibus MANCOVA revealed that the three groupsdiffered significantly on adolescent health behaviors (F(4, 646) = 12.158, Wilks’ λ= .865, p< .001, η2 = .070) aftercontrolling for adolescent gender. Given the significanceof the overall MANCOVA, the univariate main effectswere examined. Significant univariate main effects werefound for both adolescents’ dietary (F (2, 324) =19.128, p< .001, η2 = .106) and physical activity behaviors (F (2,324) = 5.208, p= .006, η2 = .031). Univariate comparisonsof means, standard deviations and effect sizes for each ofthe three groups are shown in Table 2. For adolescentdietary behaviors, significant pairwise comparisons (p< .001) were obtained between the HIGH TP familygroup (M adolescent healthy eating score = 14.642) andthe LOW TP family group (M= 11.331). Significant pair-wise comparisons (p= .001) were also obtained betweenthe HIGH TP family group (M= 14.642) and inconsistentHIGH-LOW TP family group (M= 11.386). No signifi-cant differences were observed (p= .956) between theLOW TP family group (M= 11.331) and inconsistentHIGH-LOW TP family group (M= 11.386). For adoles-cent physical activity behaviors, significant pairwise com-parisons were obtained (p= .002) between HIGH TPfamily group (M adolescent leisure time physical activityscore = 59.315) and LOW TP family group (M= 48.467).No significant differences were observed between incon-sistent HIGH-LOW TP family (M= 57.648) and theHIGH TP family group (M= 59.315, p= .791) or theLOW TP family group (M= 48.467, p= .141) althoughthe means were in the hypothesized direction.DiscussionThe results of this cross-sectional study revealed thatfamily transformational parenting behaviors were posi-tively associated with both healthful dietary intake andleisure-time physical activity levels amongst adolescents.This suggests that family leadership processes may be im-portant factors for adolescent health-enhancing behaviors,and lends support for the utility of transformational leader-ship theory as a viable framework for understanding therole of parents in relation to adolescent health behaviors.Given that dietary and exercise habits during adoles-cence contribute towards a reduced risk of health pro-blems that extend across the lifespan [43,44], thesefindings provide some indication that the family contextis particularly salient for the socialisation of these beha-viors, and supports research in that suggests parents’ in-fluence over adolescents does not diminish as childrenmature into adolescents [32].Previous research has examined the relationship betweenadolescents’ perceptions of transformational parentingbehaviors as displayed by mothers’ and fathers’ in relationto self-regulatory efficacy beliefs for physical activity andhealthy eating as well as life satisfaction [26]. The presentstudy extends this line of research by examining actualhealth behaviors and found that perceptions of transform-ational parenting behaviors exhibited within the familyunit were associated with both healthy dietary intake andleisure-time physical activity behaviors.For adolescent dietary behaviors, the results of thepresent study indicate that within a family unit, inconsist-ent levels of transformational parenting (i.e., one parentabove the 75th percentile and one parent within the 25thpercentile for transformational parenting behaviors) wereassociated with the same levels of adolescent healthy eat-ing as those families whose parents lay within the 25th per-centile. This suggests that to bring about improvedadolescent dietary behaviors, the family unit (regardless ofsingle or dual parent families) need to be perceived as dis-playing relatively high levels of transformational parentingbehaviors by their adolescent children. Furthermore, in thecase of dual parent families, both parents need to be onthe same page when it comes to transformational parent-ing approaches (i.e., both parents should display highlevels of these behaviors).For physical activity behaviors, although adolescentsfrom families displaying consistently high levels of trans-formational parenting reported greater levels of physicalactivity than adolescents from families displayingMorton et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:48 Page 6 of 9http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/9/1/48in family leadership processes.consistently low levels of transformational parenting, ado-lescents reporting inconsistent parenting did not reportdifferent levels of physical activity than adolescents fromeither the HIGH or LOW TP families. Although theeffects of inconsistent transformational parenting for ado-lescent physical activity are unclear, the findings lend fur-ther support to the fact that adolescents who perceive thefamily unit (regardless of family structure) to display con-sistent and high levels of transformational parenting tendto display greater health-enhancing behaviors than adoles-cent from families who are perceived as displaying lowlevels of transformational parenting behaviors.In spite of the potential contributions of this study,there are several limitations that must be noted. First,the small number of families in the HIGH-LOW TPgroup did not permit us to investigate whether theeffects of extreme inconsistency of transformational par-enting behaviors varies depending on whether the highlytransformational parent is male or female. This reflectsthe fact that parenting behaviors are generally highly cor-related for mothers and fathers [33,34]. However, thisremains an important question for future research.Another limitation reflects the research design. Thisresearch was cross-sectional in nature, which not onlylimits potential inferences of causality, but also increasesthe possibility of common method variance across parti-cipants’ predictor and criterion responses. With respectto this latter point, however, it should also be noted thata different response format was used in the assessmentof the predictor and criterion measures, which has beenshown to mitigate common method bias [45]. In future,the hypotheses tested in this study should be examinedthrough use of a longitudinal design, ideally with object-ive measures of adolescent dietary and physical activitybehaviors. Furthermore, studies in the organizational do-main have demonstrated the efficacy of short-term inter-ventions to develop and enhance transformationalleadership behaviors [30]. Research surrounding whethertransformational leadership behaviors in families can bedeveloped through intervention represents a fruitful areaof research in order to support families in their parentingroles to bring about positive changes in adolescenthealth.Finally, the variance in adolescent health behaviorsexplained by family transformational leadership was rela-tively low (i.e., Radjusted2 < 10%). However, it is importantto note that even small amounts of variance explainedcan prove important [46]. For example, even a small im-provement in adolescent dietary and physical activitybehaviors could translate into a significant public healthimpact [47]. Therefore, if the efficacy of parenting inter-ventions guided by the tenets of transformational leader-ship theory can be established, the implications forimproved adolescent health behaviors are far-reaching.Although mediating relationships were not examinedin this exploratory study, it seems plausible to suggestthat adolescents from families displaying high levels oftransformational behaviors are more likely to feelconfident and empowered to achieve a higher level offunctioning and pursue voluntary health behaviors[9,26]. This is consistent with research in other domainsthat suggests transformational leadership predicts bothfollower self-efficacy [27] and self-regulation [48] andpro-active behaviors [49]. Future research should seekto address mediating pathways by exploring intra-per-sonal variables such as adolescent self-efficacy, self-determined motivation, self-esteem and health-relatedattitudes [9]. Furthermore, future research should seekto address potential moderators of the transformationalparenting – adolescent health behavior relationship,such as parents own’ health behaviors, their contacttime with their children, and socio-economic status [9].Finally, future studies should seek to establish evidenceof generalizability (i.e., the extent to which the effectsof transformational leadership within families cangeneralize across different populations, such as youngerchildren or older adolescents and young adults). Thiswill ultimately help to provide further support for thetransformational parenting construct and build uponthe evidence presented here in order to develop a con-ceptual framework to develop future family based inter-ventions targeting family leadership behaviors.ConclusionsThis paper represents the first empirical study to explorefamily transformational leadership behaviors in relationto adolescent health-enhancing behaviors, and suggeststhat transformational leadership theory is a usefulframework for understanding and potentially fosteringadolescent healthy eating and physical activity behaviors.If future experimental research can demonstrate successin fostering transformational leadership in families, thisframework holds potential for improving adolescentdietary and physical activity practices via improvementsEndnotes1. The data presented in this paper represent part of alarger program of research designed to examinetransformational parenting behaviors in relation tovarious adolescent health outcomes. Data on thereliability and factorial validity of measures derivedfrom the Transformational Parenting Questionnaire(TPQ) were previously published in Morton et al.(2011). Data on physical activity and dietarybehaviors reported in this manuscript were notpresented in the paper by Morton et al. (2011).Morton et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:48 Page 7 of 9http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/9/1/482. Given that the HIGH-LOW TP group containedsolely dual-parents, we were only interested indetermining whether there were differences in familystructure (single versus dual parent families) betweenthe HIGH TP and LOW TP groups.Competing interestsThe authors declare that they have no competing interests.Authors' contributionsKM and MB conceptualized and designed the study. KM collected the data.KM, AW and LP contributed to the statistical analyses. KM, AW, LP and MBcontributed to the writing of the manuscript. All authors read and approvedthe final manuscript.Author details1Primary Care Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Instituteof Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 0SR, UK.2School of Kinesiology, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, V6T1Z1, Canada.Received: 5 October 2011 Accepted: 30 April 2012Published: 30 April 2012References1. 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J Occup Organ Psych 2010, 83:267–273.doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-48Cite this article as: Morton et al.: Family leadership styles and adolescentdietary and physical activity behaviors: a cross-sectional study.International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012 9:48.Submit your next manuscript to BioMed Centraland take full advantage of: • Convenient online submission• Thorough peer review• No space constraints or color figure charges• Immediate publication on acceptance• Inclusion in PubMed, CAS, Scopus and Google Scholar• Research which is freely available for redistributionSubmit your manuscript at www.biomedcentral.com/submitMorton et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:48 Page 9 of 9http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/9/1/48


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