Childhood Obesity and Socio-Ecological Model

The socio-ecological theoretical model states that the behavior of individuals is influenced through a combination of personal characteristics and contexts of their habitat. While personal traits may consist of beliefs and attitudes, the external influences may range from social norms in the community to pressures within familial units. The theory suggests that there are levels of influence on an individual’s behavior.

The most commonly used are intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, community, and policy levels of influence. Interventions with socio-ecological models are multi-level, attempting to address several critical targets or objectives in order to incentivize change at multiple levels. The knowledge and understanding of links between the levels are necessary to design an intervention that will be effective. A combination of manipulations on these levels of influence would be most impacting on the targeted individual (Schölmerich & Kawachi, 2016).

The socio-ecological model can be applied to childhood obesity directly through an ecodevelopmental perspective. It provides a framework where parents are identified as an influence on a child’s behavior. Furthermore, the constructs of parental behavior can be explored as well through a socio-cognitive perspective. The theoretical model is helpful in explaining interpersonal and environmental determinants of attitude and conduct which lead to the health problem of childhood obesity. Identifying these components is critical to design effective interventions that achieve positive behavior change with optimal, long-term outcomes (Maria, Markham, Bluethmann, & Mullen, 2015).

Obesity is a condition that is developed over time with strong associations to outside influences and environment, particularly in children that may lack the understanding and convictions of adults. This perspective along with a multi-level approach can be directly used in application to childhood obesity, focusing on a child’s individual behavior, as well as the influence of their parents and community which create environments for the development of the disease.


Maria, D. S., Markham, C., Bluethmann, S., & Mullen, P. D. (2015). Parent‐based adolescent sexual health interventions and effect on communication outcomes: A systematic review and meta‐analyses. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 47(1), 37-50. Web.

Schölmerich, V. L., & Kawachi, I. (2016). Translating the socio-ecological perspective into multilevel interventions. Health Education & Behavior, 43(1), 17-20. Web.