aparna gummadiAparna Gummadi is a first year PhD student in the Department of Education at the University of York, studying under the supervision of Dr. Jeremy Airey. Her research is based on healthy diet education in early years education in England.

Over a fifth (22.5%) of children aged 4-5 years are overweight or obese (National Child Measurement Programme for England 2013/14), and over 27% of 5 year olds are affected by tooth decay according to a 2013 survey by Public Health England. These problems could be the result of high calorie intake and other faulty food practices (such as low fruit and vegetable intake, portion sizes, etc.), in addition to low physical activity.

Good education about nutrition in the early years is a really important way of tackling these issues, as is suggested in the Guidance on food choices for children aged 1-5 years in early education and childcare settings (Scottish Executive, 2006):

“Good nutrition in the early years is vital. Children’s early experiences of food play an important part in shaping later eating habits, and good eating habits support healthy growth and development. Giving positive messages about food in the early years setting will also help to stress the importance of a good diet to children’s families”

Nutrition education can help promote behavior change. NICE (2008) reviewed studies in this area and found support for the idea that, during early years, nutrition education has a positive impact on the learning of attitudes and practices of a healthy lifestyle. In a study by Suarez (2007), just providing a salad bar in schools did not improve student fruit or vegetable selections but inclusion of nutrition education in the curriculum did. Many traditional and alternative teaching methods are tested and found to be effective in increasing the knowledge levels as well as attitudes of pre-schoolers. (Bryd-Bredbenner 1993, Lawatsch 1990,Davis 1983,Auld 1998,Dunn2004, Fuller 2005)

As this research suggests, early years professionals have a vital role to play in supporting activities that aim to develop nutritional knowledge and healthy attitudes in younger children. But we know little about exactly what happens in early years education with regards to learning about healthy eating. Moreover, although the importance of early years practitioners in shaping children’s healthy lifestyle attitudes is evidenced, their views, experiences and difficulties are not well known. My research focuses on capturing the early years practitioner’s viewpoint and their experiences in dealing with Nutrition education.

My research aims to address this gap by exploring nutrition education in early years education settings in England. This research will take place in two phases. The first phase uses a short online survey to find out about early years professionals’ perspectives on healthy diet education. In the second phase, interviews with selected providers will be coupled with assessments of children’s knowledge, to give a more in-depth understanding.

The online survey aims to capture the views of practitioners, so that better information, training, support and resources can be developed in the future. If you are an early years practitioner and would like to take part in this survey, please click here or visit the blog http://earlyyearsnutrition.blogspot.co.uk. I would be very grateful if you could forward the links to your friends and colleagues working in early years. Your feedback will really help the development and understanding of nutrition education in early years education settings.

If you would like to find out more, you can contact Aparna Gummadi on ag1263@york.ac.uk.