NEW review | Do healthy eating strategies in early childhood education & care settings work?

Posted on: Wednesday 14th June 2023

Dietary behaviours and preferences are established early in life and persist into adulthood.

Delivering programs in Early Childhood Education & Care (ECEC) settings is recommended as a way to establish lifelong healthy eating patterns, reduce excessive weight gain and improve overall health.

Despite global recommendations, we know very little about the impact of these interventions on child diet and health outcomes. Associate Professor Serene Yoong and her team sought to understand more about ‘what works’ in ECEC settings, with the findings published this week in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Their review asked:

  • Do programs delivered in ECEC settings improve children’s dietary intake?
  • Do these programs promote healthy weight?
  • What is the impact of these programs on language and cognitive skills, social/emotional and quality of life?
  • Are programs cost-effective?
  • Do they cause any unintended adverse effects?

The review also explored the effects of programs that included different strategies of the WHO Health Promoting Schools framework (such as curriculum, environment, and partnerships), and the effects of programs on high and low SES populations.

The key findings of the review are:

1.Healthy eating interventions delivered in ECEC settings:

  • may improve child diet quality,
  • likely increase fruit consumption,
  • may increase vegetable consumption,
  • may have favourable effects on child weight and risk of overweight/obesity.
  • likely have no impact on consumption of less healthy foods and consumption of sugar sweetened drinks

2.Very few studies have reported on costs or the potential adverse effects of interventions.

3.Little is known about the impact of ECEC-based healthy eating interventions on child social/emotional outcomes, language and cognitive outcomes, and quality of life.

4.There were no differences observed by socio-economic status.

5.We also found that most interventions:

  • target the environments, partnerships, and curriculum
  • often also include strategies to promote physical activity

Read the summary of the review (pictured right) and the full text.