Nutrition policies at child-care centers and impact on role modeling of healthy eating behaviors of caregivers

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Jan;112(1):119-24. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.08.048. Epub 2011 Dec 22.


Studies suggest that caregivers influence children's dietary behaviors through role modeling in child-care environments. However, few studies have examined role modeling by caregivers and child-care center policies. This cross-sectional study evaluated the associations between child-care center policies about staff eating practices and caregivers' eating behaviors during mealtime interactions with children. Data were collected in 2008-2009 at 50 North Carolina child-care centers. Caregivers (n=124) reported about modeling healthy eating behaviors to children, trained research staff observed caregivers' (n=112) eating behaviors in classrooms, and directors reported about the presence/absence of center policies on staff eating practices. About 90% of caregivers reported modeling healthy eating behaviors to children. At 80% of centers, caregivers were observed modeling healthy dietary behaviors (eg, sitting with or eating same foods as children), but at fewer centers they were observed consuming unhealthy foods (eg, fast foods, salty snacks: 25%; and sugar-sweetened beverages: 50%). Although no substantial associations were observed between caregiver behaviors and center policies, effect size estimates suggest differences that may be of clinical significance. For example, caregivers were observed modeling healthy dietary behaviors more frequently at centers that had written policies about staff discouraging unhealthy foods for meals/snacks and having informal nutrition talks with children at meals. However, caregivers were observed consuming unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages more often at centers with policies that promoted healthier foods for meals/snacks. Future research should build on this study by using larger samples to understand why healthy food policies in child-care centers may not translate to eating practices among caregivers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Child Day Care Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / standards
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Food Preferences
  • Food Services / standards*
  • Food Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • North Carolina
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Social Environment