A group of University of Connecticut researchers who study child care as an important setting to influence healthy eating habits have published a series of findings that can be used to improve child care policies and practices in order to curb childhood obesity.
All of the researchers are affiliated with the University of Connecticut’s Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), a multidisciplinary research center that focuses on obesity as one of its main areas of collaborative investigation.
The CHIP researchers’ findings are included in six studies published today in a special section of the journal Childhood Obesity, called “Wellness promotion in child care: Evidence to Action.” (Links to the special section articles and a related editorial appear at the end of this article). The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded two of the six studies through its national program Healthy Eating Research. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, and the American Diabetes Association Foundation funded the other studies.
Because many young children spend more time in child-care settings than any other place except home, influencing young children’s diets and physical activity while in child care provides an important opportunity to address childhood obesity.
“The findings from these studies inform how out-of-home child care providers can work together with families to reinforce healthy eating and physical activity,” said Marlene Schwartz, PhD, an author on two of the studies and Director of the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, which is part of CHIP.
Five of the six studies identified areas for improvement and barriers to making progress on healthy diets and adequate physical activity levels in child-care settings. According to the findings of the new research, the following types of support are needed to help child-care providers improve diets and increase physical activity among young children:
- Parent outreach, staff training, funding, space and equipment for physical activity, modifying cultural norms about child feeding and physical activity that are not consistent with a healthy lifestyle, and
- Assistance with strategies to decrease levels of saturated fat and sodium in meals served in childcare settings, and to increase levels of whole grains in the meals served.
Two of the studies examined strategies to improve dietary intake, identifying promising approaches to:
- Increase child preferences for healthy foods, and
- Improve the healthfulness of meals in child-care centers.
One of the studies reported findings about a promising new tool to determine what preschoolers actually consume, to identify those at risk of poor nutrition and to better inform child-care interventions to promote healthy eating habits.
“Collectively, the articles encourage policymakers to see (early care and education) as a critical partner in the fight against childhood obesity and represent the current challenges and opportunities to promote nutritious eating and physical activity in young children,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, PhD, Commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, who contributed an editorial to the journal issue in which the studies are published. “Through smart policy and education of children, providers, families and policy makers, we can not only address childhood obesity, but help set the stage for healthier adults later on in life.”
Other authors on the six studies include: Professor of Allied Health Sciences Valerie B. Duffy, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Kim M. Gans, and Assistant Professor of Nutritional Sciences Amy R. Mobley.
Gans has an active National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) grant to help home-based child-care providers in Rhode Island improve the nutrition and physical activity environments of their homes.
“While improved policies are needed to facilitate childhood obesity prevention in child-care settings, there are many different types of child-care settings and one size does not fit all,” Gans said. “These articles highlight the importance of considering the unique needs of different child-care settings, such as family child-care homes, Spanish-speaking providers, and rural providers, when crafting policies and translating them into practice.”
About the UConn Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention
CHIP is a multidisciplinary research center focused on health behavior and health behavior change. CHIP, which has received more than $120 million in external funding to support its research in a wide range of health areas, creates theory-based interventions to address pressing health problems and translates its most effective interventions into practice locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally.
Links to Special Section Content:
“Early Care and Education Settings Are Vital for Childhood Obesity Prevention”
“Comparing Current Practice to Recommendations for the Child and Adult Care Food Program”
Marlene B. Schwartz, Kathryn E. Henderson, Gabrielle Grode, Maia Hyary, Erica L. Kenney, Meghan O’Connell, Ann E. Middleton
“Testing Variations on Family-Style Feeding To Increase Whole Fruit and Vegetable Consumption among Preschoolers in Child Care”
Marlene B. Schwartz, Meghan O’Connell, Kathryn E. Henderson, Ann E. Middleton, Stephanie Scarmo
“Evaluation of Nutrition and Physical Activity Policies and Practices in Child Care Centers within Rural Communities”
Jaime S. Foster, Dawn Contreras, Abby Gold, Ann Keim, Renee Oscarson, Paula Peters, Sandra Procter, Valentina Remig, Carol Smathers, Amy R. Mobley
“Impact of a Short-Term Nutrition Education Child Care Pilot Intervention on Preschool Children’s Intention To Choose Healthy Snacks and Actual Snack Choices”
Laura S. Joseph, Amy A. Gorin, Stacey L. Mobley, Amy R. Mobley
“Nutrition and Physical Activity Environments of Home-Based Child Care: What Hispanic Providers Have to Say”
Alison Tovar, Noereem Z. Mena, Patricia Risica, Gemma Gorham, Kim M. Gans
“Preschool-Adapted Liking Survey (PALS): A Brief and Valid Method To Assess Dietary Quality of Preschoolers”
MastanehSharafi, Heather Peracchio, Stephanie Scarmo, Tania B. Huedo-Medina, Susan T. Mayne, Brenda Cartmel, Valerie B. Duffy
All articles are also listed in a special section in the October issue online here:http://online.liebertpub.com/toc/chi/11/5