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Local preschoolers developing unhealthy eating habits, Health Unit reports

SIMCOE, JANUARY 21, 2013 – The poor nutrition habits of local preschoolers in our area are a concern for the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.

A recently released report from the Health Unit revealed that three to five year olds in Haldimand and Norfolk Counties are not eating enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains to promote optimal healthy growth and development.

“Poor eating habits lead to higher rates of obesity, nutrient deficiencies, failure to thrive and potential cognitive delays including reduced school readiness,” explained Michelle Saraiva, registered dietitian at the Health Unit. “Preschoolers are especially vulnerable to poor nutrition because they are mentally and physically developing, and establishing eating habits that will likely remain with them for the rest of their life.”

In the spring of 2012, the Health Unit distributed more than 2500 copies of a nutrition screening tool for preschoolers, called NutriSTEP®, to parents through the local school boards. The 17 question screening tool can be completed by a parent or caregiver of a preschooler in less than five minutes. Approximately 650 completed responses were returned and the results were analyzed by the Health Unit.

The data revealed that 80 per cent of preschoolers were not eating the five daily servings of fruits and vegetables recommended in Canada’s Food Guide for children between four and eight years of age. In addition to five servings of fruits and vegetables, the Food Guide recommends that a healthy daily diet for a young child should include four servings of grain products, preferably whole grains, two servings of milk or milk alternatives, and one serving of meat or meat alternative
“The fact that most preschoolers in our area aren’t eating enough fruits and veggies is concerning since these foods provide key nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre which are important for the healthy growth and development of young kids,” noted Saraiva.

The report also revealed that 35 per cent of parents do not allow their child to decide how much they eat. A good feeding relationship between parent and child exists when the child can decide how much to eat, allowing them to self-regulate their food intake to establish healthy eating habits for life. The Health Unit encourages parents to dismiss the idea that a child must be forced to eat everything on their plate, and instead prepare healthy meals and snacks and follow the “trust me, trust my tummy” motto.

The amount of time kids spend in front of a screen was also examined with the NutriSTEP® tool. Whether they are watching television, playing video games or using a computer, the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that children under four years of age should limit screen time to less than one hour per day and children aged five to eleven limit screen time to no more than two hours per day.
According to the Health Unit’s report, 70 percent of respondents stated that their children engage in two or more hours of screen time per day.

“This excessive screen time cuts into active play time,” said Michele Crowley, physical activity health promoter with the Health Unit. “Young kids need to spend more time being physically active to help maintain a healthy body weight, develop social skills and improve learning and attention, just to name a few benefits.”

For more information on the NutriSTEP® screening tool and results of the survey, visit www.hnhu.org/nutristep or call 519-426-6170 Ext. 3237.

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Media Contact:
Michelle Saraiva, RD
Public Health Dietitian
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
519-426-6170 Ext. 3237