Fifty cent investment could yield massive nutritional returns for children, ECU finds
If long day care (LDC) services were to spend fifty cents extra, per child, per day, the nutritional value of the food served to children would be much improved, researchers from Edith Cowan University (ECU) have found.
After surveying the menu offerings of 30 LDC services in metropolitan Perth, the research team found that if services were to increase their food expenditure by just 50 cents, they were four times more likely to meet food provision recommendations.
Following the findings, lead researcher Ros Sambell from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences is now calling for food expenditure recommendations for long daycare services, noting that while there are regulations for many aspects of early childhood education and care (ECEC) service provision, current regulations relating to the food being provided for children using ECEC “are overly broad.”
“We’re calling on the sector to adopt recommendations that adequately outline appropriate spending on food” Ms Sambell said.
“This research shows that with a minimal increase of just 50 cents per child per day on food, we can make a big difference to the nutritional value of food being offered at LDC centres.”
The research showed LDC centres were, on average, spending $2 per child per day on food. Services who were spending the most on food, Ms Sambell said, were also those offering the most discretionary foods, such as cake and sweets.
Researchers said that not only was the amount of money being spent on food that was important, but also which food groups were being targeted to best support children’s healthy development.
To meet minimum nutritional recommendations, LDC centres should be allocating an extra 50 cents a day to providing more lean meat, canned legumes, vegetables milk, hard cheese and yoghurt, according to Ms Sambell.
“Improving nutrition for children has short- and long-term positive impacts on cognitive and physical development,” she said.
Researchers noted that meeting the nutritional needs of children in “the current cost-restrictive climate” can be a challenge at times, “but with appropriate policy changes and training for services and key staff we can make important changes.”
With nearly 1.4 million children accessing some form of ECEC in 2019, the scale of the issue warrants attention, the researchers said.
“These services are providing more and more education and care for Australian children and their families, so there’s an opportunity here to make a significant contribution to public health,” Ms Sambell said.
“The type of foods offered to children, how they are offered, and how and when they are consumed, is an important part of the food provision message that can positively impact children’s future food decisions.”