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Educators flunk nutrition test

Did you know that red meat is one of the most iron-rich foods? Half of childcare workers in a recent Queensland University of Technology study didn’t.

The 1748 participants scored poorly on knowledge of other nutritional guidelines, too; only 2 per cent answered all 11 questions accurately. Despite this, about 48 per cent were ‘confident or extremely confident’ about their knowledge. “There’s a disconnect there,” said QUT research fellow and study conductor Phoebe Cleland.

The results don’t bode well for kids in respondents’ care. Most in the survey thought low-fat dairy products should never be served to toddlers, yet guidelines stipulate they should be introduced from age 2 onwards. “We were surprised by that, because that guideline’s been around for quite a while,” Cleland remarked.

Respondents also tended to overestimate appropriate serving sizes, in addition to other blunders.

This ignorance has been shown to have tangible effects on young waistlines; “around 25 per cent of kids in Australia are overweight” Cleland affirmed. She suggested it’s also an adult-sized problem. “We need to shift focus as a society …make our own portion sizes smaller”

With a wealth of accurate nutrition information readily accessible, as well as resources provided on the survey page, why did educators err so confidently? Cleland surmised that, aside from a lack of knowledge, it could be a function of inadequate time: “We know that educators are incredibly time-poor, so maybe they wouldn’t have had time to look it up.”

In other cases, Cleland advised that educators know the guidelines, such as the one about low-fat products, but disagree with them.

She proposed the media may be responsible for their bias, as it imparts “mixed messages’ about nutrition “every day”. Also, media hype about the latest fad diets can distort reality, “whereas the guidelines [that sit under the National Quality Framework] that are based on thousands of research studies… aren’t popular, aren’t seen as cool and trendy to report on,” Cleland opined. “I can definitely see how it’s confusing for educators.”

Parents, too, aren’t immune from media misstatements, Cleland proposed. And in Queensland, where parents provide kids’ food in more than half of childcare centres, this is of particular concern.

Ultimately, though, it’s not educators’ or parents’ fault, Cleland said, citing structural obstacles to changing nutritional standards for the better. Educators need to be valued more … the importance of health needs to be valued more”, she asserted.

Cleland’s wish for greater respect of health education may not be granted. Funding for the LEAPS program – government-funded, health-related professional development for childcare workers, of which the study was a component – dries up in June. This means if childcare centres want training in nutrition, apart from the 500 that have already partaken in it, they’re going to have to pay for it.

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One comment

  1. This does not surprise me – there is so much conflicting and inaccurate information – particularly in the marketing of food for children. So many foods are labelled ‘lunchbox’ friendly when in fact they are not. Parents are time poor – so don’t necessarily read all the food labels and I don’t blame them. It is hard when they think they have made a good choice and then it is wrong and fussy eaters don’t make the process easier for parents.

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