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Presented at the 1st UK Congress of Obesity, Birmingham, September 2014, and the abstract of this talk had been published by the journal Appetite.

Increasing Pre-School Children's Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables: A modelling and rewards intervention

Increasing pre-school children’s consumption of fruit and vegetables through a modelling and rewards intervention

We have devised and tested a nursery-based intervention that gives toddlers and preschoolers the best possible start in life by teaching them to love eating their fruit and veg.

Using the same key principles as Food Dudes Programmes in primary schools, we developed and trialled a new programme for preschool aged children. We started by redesigning all media and materials to be suitable for younger children, and adjusting the procedures accordingly. Next, we piloted the new modelling videos and materials in local nurseries in North Wales. Finally, we recruited six nursery schools in the West Midlands to take part in a controlled evaluation of the new programme.

During baseline, all participants (N=289) received a standardised portion of target fruit and target vegetables, a different pair each day. In Phase 1 (32 days) target foods were presented in all schools.  In the three intervention schools only, participants first watched a video showing four child characters eating a variety of fruit and veg to get “special energy” then received small customised rewards if they ate the provided target foods.  Next, follow up measurement was conducted in all schools under baseline conditions. For the next three months, the intervention schools took part in once weekly “rainbow picnics” in which children received rewards for eating target fruit and vegetables. Final measurement completed the study.

Consumption of target fruit and veg in the intervention schools increased significantly from baseline to 3-month follow up (p<.0001 for both categories), with large effect sizes. In the control schools, matched fruit and vegetable provision alone proved ineffective in changing children's consumption. This showed that children's food choices could be modified successfully before they start primary school.

We have refined the procedure following this trial, based on our own observations and feedback from parents and teachers.  Next, the programme was successfully implemented in over 200 nurseries across the UK.

This research had been supported by a Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship (KESS) funding for a Masters by Research to Catherine Sharp, working with Prof Horne and Dr Erjavec. We also thank Food Dudes Health Ltd; the nurseries who took part; Go Wales scheme; and the School of Psychology, Bangor University, for their contributions.