Health Promotion Journal of Australia
Nutrition and Health Innovation Research Institute
Menzies Health Institute Queensland
Issue Addressed: Early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings are ideal environments to optimise nutrition and positively influence children's food behaviours. However, recent research has identified the need to improve nutrition policies, food provision, and mealtime environments in Australian ECEC settings. This study explored the perceptions of ECEC directors regarding barriers and enablers to a health-promoting food environment within ECEC services. Methods: Eleven directors from ECEC services in Nerang, Queensland, and surrounding areas, participated in qualitative interviews between March and May 2021. Transcripts were analysed using qualitative content analysis that followed a deductive-inductive approach employing nutrition-related domains from the Wellness Child Care Assessment Tool, these being: (i) nutrition policy; (ii) nutrition education; (iii) food provision; and (iv) mealtimes. Transcripts were coded independently by two researchers in NVivo and consensus for barriers and enablers was achieved through discussion. Results: Barriers and enablers were reported across four domains (nutrition policy, nutrition education, food provision, and mealtimes). Comprehensive nutrition-related policies were an enabler to a healthy nutrition environment but were sometimes described as lacking detail or customisation to the service. Nutrition education for children was described as competing with other activities for time and resources in an already-crowded curriculum. Financial and time pressures faced by families were a barrier to healthy food provision in services where families provided food for children. The ability of staff to sit with children and engage in conversation during mealtimes was an enabler; however, competing demands on time and the unavailability of food for staff were cited as barriers to health-promoting mealtimes. Conclusions: Directors in ECEC services report both barriers and enablers to a healthy food environment. Nutrition policies were an enabler when comprehensive and relevant but a barrier when vague and not tailored to the service environment. ECEC services should be supported to develop and implement service-specific nutrition policies and practices by engaging with parents and staff. So What?: The barriers and enablers reported in this study should be considered when designing and implementing future evidence-based interventions to improve the nutrition environment in ECEC services.
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