Country kids have unhealthily low vegie intake, finds WA study

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly e-newsletter to receive more stories like this. Kid surrounded by vegetables: Less than 15 percent of country kids across Western Australia eat the recommended daily intake of vegetables, a new study led by researchers at Edith Cowan Universities has found.

Country kids across Western Australia are unable to get the recommended daily intake of vegetables, a new study by researchers from three Western Australian universities has found.

The study, led by health scientists at Western Australia’s Edith Cowan University with researchers from The University of WA and Curtin University has found that children in regional and remote areas of the state need a lot more vegetables than they’re getting – and that the problems lie with access, pricing and  limited choice rather than with ignorance or ‘fussy eaters’.

The study, of children aged between nine and 13 years and their caregivers from across country WA, found that just 13.4 percent of non-urban kids in this key developmental age-bracket are getting the recommended daily intake of vegetables.

And the problem does not appear to stem from caregivers’ cooking skills or children’s tastes and eating habits: the majority of the caregivers surveyed said they knew how to incorporate vegetables into meals, while only 11.8 percent of them indicated that their kids disliked the taste of vegetables.

Nutrition lecturer and the study’s lead author Dr Stephanie Godrich, from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences. thinks other, less controllable factors are likely responsible for country kids’ unhealthily low vegie consumption.

Access, choice and cost are key issues

A key issue, she says, is access to local supplies of good-quality fresh and/or processed produce at affordable prices.

“Over half of the respondents indicated they would eat healthier food if their food outlets stocked healthier options,” Dr Godrich asserts. “And one-third pointed to food quality as being ‘sub-optimal’. This includes vegetables not being fresh in their local shops or spoiling soon after getting home.”

Price was another factor, with 79.1 percent of survey respondents saying they believed food was costlier for them than it was for those in other Australian communities.

Having a wider choice of places to get fresh food was a significant factor in whether caregivers and their kids ate enough vegetables regularly, with those reporting that “there were enough food outlets” in their towns 10 times more likely to consume sufficient daily vegetables than those who felt they had only limited local food-supply options.

Healthy messages help 

One encouraging finding was that messages and marketing around healthy eating did have a positive impact on vegetable-eating habits – provided they could be recalled.

The researchers found that caregivers’ ability to recall messages related to vegetable consumption and its health benefits was associated with a greater likelihood of adequate vegetable intake in their children.Vegetables on sale at Adelaide Central Markets: limited supply and insufficient local food outlets is associated with a greater likelihood that families and their kids won't eat the recommended amount of vegies.

Recommendations: more messaging, improved supply

One recommendation made by the WA researchers was to implement a promotional campaign highlighting the health benefits of regular, varied vegetable consumption.

Future messaging, suggests Dr Godrich, could remind families and caregivers (particularly those in areas where good fresh produce is limited) that healthy vegie options exist beyond the fresh-produce section.

“Frozen and no-added-salt tinned offerings provide more opportunities for children to consume adequate quantities of vegetables at a more affordable cost and with fewer quality issues than fresh vegetables,” she contends. “These are convenient, and they are usually more readily available when their fresh counterparts are out of season.

“However, improvements to regional and remote food supply are crucial. Town planning that facilitates multiple options for families to purchase vegetables and greater support for regional-level food supply could be useful strategies,” Dr Godrich says.

Participating research institutions and funding

The research was conducted by health scientists from the School of Health and Medical Sciences of Science at Edith Cowan University, with researchers from The University of Western Australia’s School of Population Health and from the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia within Curtin University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. It was supported by a grant from the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation (Healthway)

Read the published paper

The study ‘Which food security determinants predict adequate vegetable consumption among rural Western Australian children?’ was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (Jan 2017).

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