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Well-articulated nutrition policies in preschool: A key to good nutrition

Posted:  Thursday, December 24, 2015

Early childhood diet is an important determinant of healthy child growth. However, the early childhood nutrition may be neither sufficient nor healthy. This has become evident from a study conducted in New Zealand, which squarely points to faulty nutrition policies and parental behaviour.

The study was an online survey of early childhood education (ECE) services, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. The online survey, known as 'Kai time in ECE', enrolled 257 licensed ECE services for children aged three and four years in Auckland, Manukau and Waikato areas. This survey was a postdoctoral research project of Sarah Gerritsen, a PhD student who conducted it with support from GRAVIDA and the University of Auckland's Centre for Longitudinal Research in 2014.

The survey brought forth the common food habits of the preschool children. The prevalent dietary habits were preference for sugary, salty and fatty foods at celebrations (26%), and the unhealthy foods at fundraisers (37%). Hustling children to finish their meal (61%) and encouraging them to eat beyond their appetite (60%) may lead to unhealthy dietary habits.

The food provided by ECE services may have a large impact on a child’s diet as most of the ECE services provide some, if not all, of the food children eat while at the service. The survey reported that the ECE services encourage healthy eating by maintaining edible garden (90%), serving family-style meals along with adults (80%); and avoiding food as punishments and rewards (96% and 95%, respectively).

However, the survey also reported that 40% of ECE services encountered certain barriers in promoting healthy nutrition to children. The most common barriers were a lack of support from parents and families (21%) and concerns about food intolerances and allergies (10%).

Although 82% of the ECE services had a thorough nutrition policy and 66% services had specific guidelines about the standard of food, it considered more as suggestions rather than requirements.

Thus improvement of the policies by following the Ministry of Health's Food and Nutrition Guidelines were suggested by Ms Gerritsen. She mentioned that "This way we can create an environment in ECE centres that assists children to want to make healthy food choices, while also encouraging families to reassess the food they provide for their children,"

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