Teaching children to eat healthy: Repetition is the key

Child-centered nutrition phrases encourage healthy eating, especially when introducing new foods, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior


Philadelphia, May 8, 2019

Early childhood is a critical period for establishing healthy eating behaviors, yet many preschoolers in the United States are not meeting dietary recommendations. A new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, published by Elsevier, found repeated opportunities for children to become familiar with the food without pressure helped them understand the benefits of healthy eating and increased consumption.

“Because preschool children rely on other people to provide food, it is important to understand best practices to improve healthy eating,” said lead author Jane Lanigan, PhD, Department of Human Development, Washington State University Vancouver, Vancouver, WA, USA. “This study shows the value of creating consistent nutrition phrases to use in the home and in child care and healthcare settings during meal time.”

Ninety-eight families were recruited from two early education programs for children 3-6 years old. One center participated in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and served snacks, breakfast, and lunch. The second served only snacks and children brought lunch from home. Tomatoes, bell peppers, lentils, and quinoa were introduced during the study. Children were assigned one of the foods for repeated exposure, one for child-centered nutrition phrases plus repeated exposure, and two foods for no intervention.

Two days per week during the six-week study, trained research assistants operated tasting stations in the classroom. Children visited the tasting stations individually and were offered one food to taste. On the day when child-centered nutrition phrases plus repeat exposure were used, the research assistant introduced food-specific phrases into the conversation. Phrases used included “Whole grains help you run fast and jump high,” and “Fruits and vegetables help keep you from getting sick.”

While interacting with the children, the researcher took notes on how the child responded to and commented about the food. Children who tried the food were asked to select a face that showed how they thought the food tasted. At the conclusion of the intervention, the foods were provided to the classes as a snack and researchers measured what was eaten by each student.

A row of fives faces, each expressing different reactions to help students select how they thought the food tasted.
Children were asked to select a face that showed how they thought the food tasted. Credit: Carraway-Stage V, Spangler H, Borges M, Suzanne Goodell L. Evaluation of a pictorial method to assess liking of familiar fruits and vegetables among preschool children.
(Source: Appetite. 2014; 75:11-20. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.12.011).

Results showed the repeated exposure and the child-centered nutrition phrases in addition to repeated exposure only increased these preschoolers’ willingness to try, preference, and consumption of the study food. Those hearing child-centered nutrition phrases consumed twice as much of these foods following the intervention, but their stated liking or willingness to try the food did not increase.

“Mealtime conversations can be a time to encourage food exploration and develop healthy eating behaviors with young children,” concluded Dr. Lanigan. “Both parents and child care providers would benefit from learning and using developmentally appropriate, accurate nutrition messages when introducing new foods.”

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Notes for editors
The article is “Child-Centered Nutrition Phrases Plus Repeated Exposure Increase Preschoolers’ Consumption of Healthful Foods, but Not Liking or Willingness to Try,” by Jane Lanigan, PhD; Rachel Bailey, PhD; Alexandra Malia Timpson Jackson, MS, RDN, LD; and Valerie Shea, MS (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2019.02.011). It appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, volume 51, issue 5 (May 2019) published by Elsevier.

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or jnebmedia@elsevier.com to obtain copies. To schedule an interview with the authors please contact Dr. Jane Lanigan at +1 360 546 9715 or jlanigan@wsu.edu.

This research was funded by a Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences Research Initiative for Human Sciences Grant.

An audio podcast featuring an interview with Dr. Jane Lanigan and information for journalists are located at www.jneb.org/content/podcast. Excerpts from the podcast may be reproduced by the media; contact Eileen Leahy to obtain permission.

About the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB)
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB), the official journal of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB), is a refereed, scientific periodical that serves as a resource for all professionals with an interest in nutrition education and dietary/physical activity behaviors. The purpose of JNEB is to document and disseminate original research, emerging issues, and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide and to promote healthy, sustainable food choices. It supports the society’s efforts to disseminate innovative nutrition education strategies, and communicate information on food, nutrition, and health issues to students, professionals, policy makers, targeted audiences, and the public.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior features articles that provide new insights and useful findings related to nutrition education research, practice, and policy. The content areas of JNEB reflect the diverse interests of health, nutrition, education, Cooperative Extension, and other professionals working in areas related to nutrition education and behavior. As the Society's official journal, JNEB also includes occasional policy statements, issue perspectives, and member communications. www.jneb.org

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a global provider of information and analytics for professionals and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com

Media contact
Eileen Leahy
Elsevier
+1 732 238 3628
jnebmedia@elsevier.com