While vegetables are important for long-term good eating habits and overall health, surveys suggest up to 95% of Australian children aren’t eating enough.
To address this, Flinders University and the CSIRO are embarking on a new five-year, $4m national campaign – funded by Hort Innovation – which is aimed at encouraging children to increase their intake of vegetables.
Flinders University Nutrition and Dietetics researchers at the College of Nursing and Health Sciences will explore the influencers behind kids’ exposure to, and acceptance of vegetables through behavioural and produce innovations.
The initiative will provide educators, health professionals and research agencies with a free toolkit that includes information on dietary guidelines, and best practice, evidence-based knowledge of flavour exposure and food preference.
David Moore, general manager for research, marketing and investment at Hort Innovation, says the project would help to establish a national framework promoting the importance of vegetable consumption for improved health outcomes in children.
“The VegKit project will bring together a number of research and educational resources with the ultimate aim of increasing a child’s vegetable intake by more than half a serving per day,” Moore said.
“In that view, there is potential to increase demand for fresh produce by 19,000 tonnes per year if every child (aged 2-6 years) increases consumption by greater than half a serving – demonstrating a great return on research investment.”
The project will also disseminate knowledge and increase advocacy and leadership using a whole-of-system approach, with the target users of the outcomes being vegetable levy payers, health professionals, government agencies, early learning educators, researchers and representative bodies.
The initiative’s six key activities include:
- best practice guidelines to increase vegetable intake
- a national online register of initiatives to increase vegetable intake
- further development and coordination of the Vegetable Intake Strategic Alliance (VISA)
- updated dietary advice for maternal, infant and early years, using evidence-based knowledge of flavour exposure and food preference development, to facilitate children’s vegetable intake
- Initiatives in the community (for long day-care settings) to increase children’s vegetable intake
- supply chain initiatives (industry innovations and early primary school settings) to increase children’s vegetable intake.
Flinders Associate Professor, Rebecca Golley, said research into understanding the development of taste preferences of children will help find practical ways to make children enjoy more vegetables.
In her latest paper, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Elsevier, ScienceDirect), researchers examined the potential to increase healthy choices in children’s diets by reducing discretionary (nutritionally poor) food and beverage choices and replacing them with healthy foods under better dietary strategies.
“Our research found that strategies such as reducing the portion size of nutritionally poor foods, or substituting these choices for foods such as vegetables, both have an incredibly important role to play in improving diet quality and supporting obesity prevention,” Associate Golley said.
“One way to implement these strategies is to work with parents on dietary choices, and another is directly with the settings where children learn and play such as childcare and school – and even with industry to make vegetable products more appealing and appetising to children.”