Baby-EATS program will help educators to improve child nutrition
More than 600 young children aged two years and under will join their families, and 60 Australian early childhood centres in the trial of an innovative online program which has been created to support parents of infants and toddlers and early childhood educators to improve child nutrition early in life.
The Baby-EATS program is backed by a grant of more than $1.3 million from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), and is led by researcher Serene Yoong, the Associate Director of Deakin University’s Global Centre for Preventive Health and Nutrition (GLOBE).
Early childhood services, Dr Yoong said, are particularly important because they, along with the home, are the primary setting where children are consuming food.
“Childcare (sic.) is a particularly important avenue to support healthy feeding practices in this age,” she said. “The majority of parents returning to work after the birth of a child access childcare at approximately seven months. This corresponds to a critical developmental phase in infant nutrition and growth – and is an opportunity where we can influence long-term diet and weight trajectories.”
Poor diet is one of the primary causes of death and disability, and children as young as three years of age report consuming significant amounts of food high in sodium and added sugar.
Exposure to optimal feeding practices early in life can support the development of lifelong healthy nutrition behaviours, Dr Yoong and her team assert. Despite this understanding, parents of infants report challenges with accessing timely information around feeding, and lack support to implement them.
Dr Yoong is an accredited practising dietitian, and believes that Baby-EATS will be able to support the use of feeding practices known to promote healthy weight and healthy eating behaviours.
This includes supporting parents and early childhood service staff to recognise when children are full, not pressuring them to eat and avoiding using food as a reward.
Importantly, it is the first program targeting children under two years of age that focuses on ensuring consistent nutrition messages in the home and early learning environments.
“We have intentionally designed this program to address both parents and childcare centres identified knowledge gaps, using fun, interactive online strategies,” Dr Yoong said.
Baby-EATS, which will be delivered in partnership with the Hunter New England Local Health District, consists of an online interactive website for early childhood educators, age-appropriate text messages to parents, short video resources, web resources and webinars from paediatric dietitians.
Baby-EATS builds on a strong partnership between Associate Professor Yoong, the Hunter England Local Health District, the NSW Centre for Population Health and early childhood services and parents within the region.
The research team consists of expert dietitians, implementation and behavioural scientists, early childhood education specialists, information technology experts, health service managers, health economists and statisticians from the University of Newcastle, Deakin Health Economics and the University of Queensland.