The family environment is important for explaining individual health behaviour. While previous research mostly focused on influences among family members and dyadic interactions (parent-child), the purpose of this study was to develop a new measure, the Family Health Climate Scale (FHC-Scale), using a family-based approach. The FHC is an attribute of the whole family and describes an aspect of the family environment that is related to health and health behaviour. Specifically, a questionnaire measuring the FHC (a) for nutrition (FHC-NU) and (b) for activity behaviour (FHC-PA) was developed and validated.
In Study 1 (N = 787) the FHC scales were refined and validated. The sample was randomly divided into two subsamples. With random sample I exploratory factor analyses were conducted and items were selected according to their psychometric quality. In a second step, confirmatory factor analyses were conducted using the random sample II. In Study 2 (N = 210 parental couples) the construct validity was tested by correlating the FHC to self-determined motivation of healthy eating and physical activity as well as the families’ food environment and joint physical activities.
Exploratory factor analyses with random sample I (Study 1) revealed a four (FHC-NU) and a three (FHC-PA) factor model. These models were cross-validated with random sample II and demonstrated an acceptable fit [FHC-PA: χ2 = 222.69, df = 74, p < .01; χ2/df = 3.01; CFI = .96; SRMR = .04; RMSEA = .07, CI .06/.08; FHC-NU: χ2 = 278.30, df = 113, p < .01, χ2/df = 2.46, CFI = .96; SRMR = .04; RMSEA = .06, CI .05/.07]. The perception of FHC correlated (p < .01) with the intrinsic motivation of healthy eating (r = .42) and physical activity (r = .56). Moreover, parental perceptions of FHC-NU correlated with household soft drink availability (r = −.31) and perceptions of FHC-PA with the frequency of joint physical activities with the child (r = .51). These patterns were found on the intraindividual and interindividual level.
Two valid instruments measuring the FHC within families were developed. The use of different informants’ ratings demonstrated that the FHC is a family level variable. The results confirm the high relevance of the FHC for individuals’ health behaviour. The FHC and the measurement instruments are useful for examining health-related aspects of the family environment.