Childcare providers should be viewed as a major force in shaping children’s nutritional behaviours

I may be repeating myself with a couple of these statements, but I had to return to this article recently…. According to Meghan Lynch and Malek Batal:

“According to recent statistics, 18% of Canadian children and youth between the ages of two and 17 years satisfy the criteria for being clinically overweight, with an additional 8% classified as obese (Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition, 2008). Unfortunately, with peak fatness in early childhood identified as a key factor in adult obesity, the chances are unlikely that these children will simply outgrow their childhood obesity-weight status and become healthy-weight adults….” (p.185)

“Furthermore, a multitude of studies have revealed numerous negative consequences of childhood and adulthood obesity, encompassing a range of physical, psychological, and social health issues….” (p.186)

Early experiences with food are crucial in developing children’s lifelong preferences, behaviours, and attitudes regarding food and eating (Aldridge, Dovey, & Halford, 2009; Hendy, 1999; Liem & Menella, 2002; Veuglers & Fitzgerald, 2005; Wardle, Guthrie, Sanderson, Birch, & Plomin, 2001; Wells & Ritz, 2001). All children’s food preferences are thought to be learned, with early childhood being the most significant period for laying the foundation for healthy dietary preferences (Cashdan, 1994; Hendy, 1999). Children’s nutritional behaviours can be shaped in a variety of ways, such as observing and modelling others’ behaviours and attitudes, being rewarded with food, and having repeated exposures to new foods (Fisher & Birch, 1999; Lytle et al., 1997; Schwartz & Puhl, 2003). Hence, the social environment plays an especially significant role in the development and maintenance of children’s nutritional behaviours. Evidence has shown that family-level factors, as children model the nutritional attitudes and behaviours of their parents (Birch, 1998; Brown & Ogden, 2004; Faith, 2005; Schwartz & Puhl, 2003), and broader, community and societal-level factors, such as access to healthy and affordable foods, have important impacts on childhood dietary habits (Mikkelsen & Chehimi, 2007). Still, while much is known about the impact of experience on children’s developing nutritional behaviours, the majority of research focuses on parents (Benton, 2003; Brown & Ogden, 2004; Fleischacker, Cason, & Achterberg, 2007; Moore et al., 2005; Story, Kaphingst, & French, 2006), neglecting the importance other social influences exert on children’s development. Not surprisingly, researching the impact of different social influences in the lives of young children has been highlighted in various studies with children (Lumeng, Kaplan-Sanoff, Shuman, & Kannan, 2008; Moore et al., 2005; Needham, Dwyer, Randall-Simpson, & Heeney, 2007; Story et al., 2006).” (p.186)

Childcare providers represent one such social influence that is in need of further research (Birch & Fisher, 1998; Story et al., 2006; Taylor et al., 2005). ‘‘Childcare’’ refers to the care of a child by someone other than the parent or guardian, and can be classified as either informal or formal in nature. Informal childcare involves care by a non-licensed provider, such as a relative or neighbour. Formal childcare refers to care that is based out of a childcare centre (where multiple providers care for the children) or home (where only one provider cares for the children), both of which can be further classified as either licensed or non-licensed (Bushnik, 2006).” (p.186)

Given the amount of time children are spending in childcare, providers should be viewed as a major force in shaping children’s nutritional behaviours (Birch & Fisher, 1998; Story et al., 2006). The need to develop a better understanding of childcare settings and providers gains importance in light of recent findings on the health of children in childcare. Benjamin et al. (2009) found that the more hours a child spent in childcare, the higher his/her body mass index was at ages one and three. Importantly, this finding was only noted if the child was in home-based childcare. Gubbels et al. (2010) likewise concluded that children who attended childcare at age seven months had significantly increased chances of being overweight at one year of age. Furthermore, limited childcare use between the ages of three and five has been correlated with a decreased risk of being overweight from six to 12 years (Lumeng, Kaplan-Samoff, Shuman, & Kannan, 2005). More in-depth explorations of the nutritional environments and providers’ practices in childcare settings are needed to better understand the reasons for such findings (Benjamin et al., 2009).” (p.187)

Given their joint responsibility in developing healthy eating behaviours in children, further exploration of how to facilitate better partnerships between providers and parents is well warranted (Briley et al., 1999; Mooney, Boddy, Stratham, & Warwick, 2008; Moore et al., 2005).” (p.188)

Lynch and Batal’s study makes for really interesting reading, but I found their approach to their study particularly revealing. They explain their methodology:

To understand people’s behaviours and perceptions more completely, it is essential to consider the variety of factors and interactions in their physical and social environments (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 2005; Gregson et al., 2001). Social ecological theories offer such a broad understanding of the different factors influencing people and consider the contexts in which people live (Jordan, 2004; Lytle, 2005). Guided by social ecological theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 2005; Davidson & Birch, 2001; Gregson et al., 2001) and past research with childcare providers, understanding of how providers make decisions regarding food and mealtimes was developed through asking questions that encompassed three levels of factors that act on people’s behaviours: individual, community, and societal.” (p.188)

Personal characteristics of the providers, such as their knowledge of childhood nutrition practices, were crucial to explore, as these characteristics are highly influential on attitudes and behaviours (Davidson & Birch, 2001). Interpersonal factors were also a crucial component involved in this level (Bronfenbrenner, 2005) and included interactions between providers and others in the childcare settings; primarily, the children and their parents. For example, providers were asked whether they ever received feedback from parents regarding food or nutrition at the childcare. Next were examined nutritional resources available in the neighbourhoods of the childcares, such as vegetable gardens and markets as well as providers’ connections with other providers. Whether providers can perform effectively in their roles in raising healthy children depends on their perceptions of the support around them, such as the availability and accessibility of healthy foods (Mikkelsen & Chehimi, 2007; Twiss et al., 2003). Finally, local, provincial, and federal government policies affect the ability of the providers to encourage healthy eating. Providers were asked whether they have ever received any information from the government regarding nutrition in the childcare setting and how useful they find this information to be. While much research has examined this level in terms of what nutritional materials are supplied to providers (Fees et al., 2009; Fleischacker et al., 2007; Mooney et al., 2008; Moore et al., 2005; Romaine et al., 2007), learning how useful providers perceive the information is much less commonly examined.” (p.189)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Meghan Lynch and Malek Batal (2011) Factors influencing childcare providers’ food and mealtime decisions: an ecological approach. Child Care in Practice 17(2)April; pp.185-203

Abstract: “To better understand and promote healthy nutritional behaviour development in children, research suggests the need to develop a stronger comprehension of influences from their social environment. Yet research has favoured studying parents, with little attention being paid to other important individuals in children’s lives, especially from a qualitative research approach. Thus, the goal of this study was to understand the factors influencing childcare providers’ decisions regarding nutrition in childcare settings. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 13 home-based and centre-based childcare providers in the Ottawa region. Through use of the social ecological model, results revealed a comprehensive understanding of different personal, community, and societal factors that influence providers in their decisions regarding food and mealtimes. To promote healthy nutritional behaviours in children, the variety of factors that influence nutritional decisions by providers need to be addressed, given the amount of time Canadian children spend in early childcare settings.”

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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