Study looks at early childhood teachers' knowledge of nutrition and physical activity

06 July 2017
Child eating in high chair

A Massey University study aims to identify how much early childhood education teachers know about nutrition and exercise in order to design interventions to assist teachers to improve pre-schoolers' diet and exercise.   

In New Zealand, one in nine children are obese. Childhood obesity rates have increased from eight per cent in 2006/07 to 11 per cent in 2015/16 and children are more likely to be overweight if they are attending childcare.

Jeanette Rapson is studying her master’s in dietetics at Massey’s Auckland campus and is currently collecting information from early childhood education (ECE) centres across New Zealand to explore what teachers and staff know about nutrition and physical activity for pre-schoolers (two to five year- olds) in childcare.

“With more children enrolled in ECE centres, this environment is extremely important for children’s health, particularly with regards to body weight. Children who are overweight or obese experience many negative health consequences such as high blood pressure, breathing difficulties, podiatric complications, bone fractures and low self-esteem. These children are also at higher risk of obesity in adulthood, developing other chronic diseases later in life, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Ms Rapson hopes her study will improve children’s health and give teachers the confidence to support children’s nutrition and physical activity.

“We hope to inform future health promotion programmes that will offer ECE teachers practical and relevant nutrition and physical activity advice for pre-schoolers. If ECE teachers feel they have good knowledge about nutrition they will be confident in supporting healthy choices.”

Predictions of a growing obese population mean an enormous burden with health care costs already stretched.

“There are global efforts to eliminate childhood obesity. Many plans stress the importance of targeting schools. Studies show that teachers and their knowledge influence child health, especially since they now spend many hours with children each day. Yet little is known about what ECE teachers know about nutrition and physical activity for pre-schoolers in New Zealand.”

The cross-sectional descriptive study uses qualitative and quantitative data. Once a childcare provider agrees to participate in the study, they will be sent a link to distribute to staff. Participation of ECE teachers and other staff is voluntary, regardless of whether their centre has agreed to participate.

The 30-item nutrition and physical activity knowledge questionnaire takes approximately 15 minutes to complete, and is anonymous. The questionnaire is open to participants until July 31. Participants must be New Zealand childcare staff working either part-time, full-time or as casual employees.

Ms Rapson’s study is being done in conjunction with BestStart Educare and the Heart Foundation.