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To examine the impact of a large, preventive intervention on preschool children's food knowledge, and intentions to choose nutrient-dense foods for meals and snacks.
A total of 29 classrooms across 14 predominantly low-income, rural childcare centers (n = 215 children, 52% female, mean age = 4.1y) were randomized into 1 of 16 conditions that differed based on whether a classroom received an intervention curriculum (Healthy Eating, Active Play and Self-Regulation) or parent/caregiver guidance. For the purposes of this study, we focus solely on the 11-week Healthy Eating (HE) curriculum that covered a number of topics, including: identifying “GO” and “WHOA” foods, food groups, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, and building a “healthy plate.”
Measures were collected pre-post. To assess children's food knowledge, children were first asked to choose their favorite foods from a list of 30 foods and four beverages that vary in energy content. Children were then asked to choose foods for a “healthy lunch” using foods from the same list. A snack selection procedure was used to assess children's food preferences and ability to choose the healthier choice from a list of nine pairs of foods; each pair contained an energy-dense and nutrient-dense food. Children in the HE condition showed a slightly larger increase in their ability to correctly identify nutrient-dense foods. Children in the HE condition showed an increase in nutrition knowledge, and competence in making nutrient-dense snack and meal choices. Children in the HE condition also showed more than a two-fold greater increase in their ability to identify nutrient-dense snack foods than children who were not in the HE condition. Data collection with more than 700 participants is ongoing; results including these additional participants will be shared.
Conclusion and Implications
Increasing children's food/nutrition knowledge and intentions to choose nutrient-dense over energy-dense foods may lead to the development of healthy dietary patterns that prevent the development of obesity in young children.