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Food courage in pre-school. A study of neophobia and nutrition in toddlers and how it can be changed

Sissel Heidi Helland at the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences has submitted her thesis entitled «Matmot i barnehagen En studie av toåringers matneofobi og kosthold og hvordan dette kan endres» ("Foodbravery in the Kindergarten. A study of twoyearolds foodneophobia an diet and how this can be changed") and will defend the thesis for the PhD-degree Wednesday 19 June 2019.

Most two-year-olds in Norway eat several meals a day in pre-school, and educational measures revolving around nutrition and meals may be of importance for the development and health of a large proportion of toddlers.

Sissel Heidi Helland

PhD candidate and Assiatant Professor

Sissel Heidi Helland at the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences has submitted her thesis entitled «Matmot i barnehagen En studie av toåringers matneofobi og kosthold og hvordan dette kan endres» ("Foodbravery in the Kindergarten. A study of twoyearolds foodneophobia an diet and how this can be changed") and will defend the thesis for the PhD-degree Wednesday 19 June 2019.

She has followed the PhD-programme at the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences.

The PhD project are funded by The Norwegian Women's Public Health Association, with support by UiA.

Summary of the thesis by Sissel Heidi Helland:

Food courage in pre-school. A study of neophobia and nutrition in toddlers and how it can be changed

Food neophobia – the reluctance to eat unfamiliar foods – is part of the normal development in toddlers.

Eating habits instilled in early childhood can last a lifetime

Historically, food neophobia helped children avoid poisonous substances occurring in nature, but in today’s environment food neophobia mainly means a less healthy diet and a poor variety of foods.

Food neophobia may also contribute to reducing children’s enjoyment of food and well-being.

Since food habits established around the ages of two and three tend to persist into adulthood, early interventions which reduce the level of food neophobia are needed to help children learn to enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods.

Most two-year-olds in Norway eat several meals a day in pre-school, and educational measures revolving around nutrition and meals may be of importance for the development and health of a large proportion of toddlers.

Two sub-studies

The project Children’s food courage consists of two sub-studies, one cross-sectional study and one randomised controlled trial which includes the design of the intervention, a process evaluation using pre-school staff as informants and efficacy outcomes.

The first study explores the association between food neophobia and intake of various foods among Norwegian toddlers.

The second study includes the design, implementation and evaluation of a multicomponent intervention which contains:

  • i) Group sessions focusing on sensory experience and food (the Sapere method)
  • ii) New, hot meals
  • iii) Healthy eating advice for staff
  • iv) Healthy eating advice for parents, where one intention was to reduce food neophobia

The study Children’s food courage shows that higher levels of food neophobia are associated with rare intake of fish, vegetables, fruits and berries among two-year-olds.

The children had a lower consumption of vegetables when their parents had higher levels of food neophobia.

Studies of dietary interventions in pre-school

The intervention Children’s food courage was intended to reduce food neophobia through measures in pre-school.

These measures did not have the expected effect on the food neophobia of two-year-olds or their willingness to try a variety of foods.

The pre-school staff expressed that the intervention was inspiring but demanding. This despite being supplied with both material, equipment and training. The staff thought the Sapere method was a helpful educational tool which promoted food courage.

They reported that both the two-year-olds and the staff became more aware of their sensory experiences and developed their vocabulary related to senses and food.

The introduction of new research-based guidelines led to new experiences during lunch, such as everyone eating together or the children helping themselves.

Some pre-school staff experienced neophobic reactions in both children and staff in connection with serving new dishes for lunch.

The greatest challenge for pre-schools taking part in the intervention appeared to be the time and skills needed to prepare the food.

Pre-school staff’s knowledge about food

For such measures to be relevant to public health, and for two-year-olds to get motivated to eat a wide range of healthy foods, these results show that there is need to be aware about pre-school staff’s knowledge about food, nutrition, cooking and meal routines.

Adequate time and resources for cooking are also important.

 

Disputation facts:

The Candidate: Sissel Heidi Helland (born i Svolvær 1967, raised i Kristiansand). Trade certificate as a cook (1990) at Arendal kokk og stuertskole (Arendal school for cook- and steward education), Bachelor degree as a preschool teacher (1995) at HiA - Agder University College, Masters degree in Education (2008) UiA, present position as Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences.

The trial lecture and the public defence will take place at Knut Hamsuns auditorium - B1-007, Campus Kristiansand.

Dean Anders Johan Wickstrøm Andersen, Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences, will chair the disputation. 

Trial lecture at 10:15 a.m.

Public defense at 12:30 p.m.

Given topic for trial lectureThe knowledge behind the strenghtening of the Focus on food and meals in the Norwegian Kindergarten framework plan (2017), and The Norwegian Directorate of Health og Helsedirektoratets guidelines for food and meals i Kindergaten (2018).

Thesis titleMatmot i barnehagen. En studie av toåringers matneofobi og kosthold og hvordan dette kan endres. "Foodbravery in the Kindergarten. A study of twoyearolds foodneophobia an diet and how this can be changed")

Search for the thesis in AURA - Agder University Research Archive, a digital archive of scientific papers, theses and dissertations from the academic staff and students at the University of Agder. The thesis will also be available at the University Library, and some copies will also be available for loan at the auditorium where the disputation takes place.

Opponents:

First opponent: Senior Lecturer Hanna Sepp, PhD, Kristianstad University, Sweden

Second opponent: Professor Hege Wergedahl, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL)

Associate Professor Per Christer Thomas Westergren, UiA, is appointed as the administrator for the assessment commitee.

Supervisors were Professor Nina Cecilie Øverby, UiA (main supervisor) and Professor Elling Bere, UiA (co-supervisor)