Nutrition and active play practices and sources of information and advice for families of young children living in two disadvantaged areas of Australia

    Student thesis: Coursework Masters - CDU


    Background: Sound nutrition and physical activity in early childhood are fundamental to a healthy start to life. However, for children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds there is greater risk of poorer practices and health outcomes. The ‘Supported Playgroup’ program in Australia promotes improved developmental, health and learning outcomes for children from culturally diverse, immigrant, refugee, Aboriginal and socially disadvantaged families. We believe that within areas of disadvantage, child nutrition and physical activity practices are less optimal for families of children attending Supported Playgroup than among families attending mainstream services. The twofold purpose of this study was (1) to describe current practices in child nutrition and physical activity reported by parents of children attending Supported Playgroups and mainstream services and (2) to understand more about access, knowledge, and application of child health information in families living in disadvantaged communities. 

    Methods: This is a cross-sectional study design of two groups of parents of young children. Following stratified random sampling of early childhood services, 81 parents / carers of children aged 0 - 4 years attending Supported Playgroups in two municipalities in Victoria, Australia were surveyed about children’s nutrition and physical activity practices, health concerns and access to health information, services and resources. Responses were compared with an age-matched group of 331 children attending mainstream early childhood services (maternal and child health services and childcare centres). Two sample tests of proportions were used to compare frequencies between each group. A series of t-tests were used to compare continuous outcome measures. 

    Results: More children from Supported Playgroups consumed sweet drinks (p = 0.005) or ‘packaged’ foods daily (69%, 53%, respectively p = 0.012; RR 1.30, (95% CI: 1.08 – 1.57), and tea or coffee regularly (19%, 10%, respectively p = 0.038; RR 1.86 (95% CI: 1.04 – 3.33) than children from mainstream services. Supported Playgroup families reported more than twice the rate of food insecurity (13%, 5% respectively, p = 0.016; RR 2.45 (95% CI: 1.17 – 5.14). Excessive ‘screen time’ emerged as an issue more frequently in Supported Playgroup children aged less than 2 years than in children from mainstream services (100%, 83% p = 0.03; RR 1.21 (95% CI: 1.12 – 1.31). Both groups reported high rates of access to primary health and support services for young children, but Supported Playgroup parents were less likely to report accessing nutrition and physical activity advice from family members (playgroup 65%, 84% mainstream, p < 0.001 RR 0.77 (95% CI: 0.64 – 0.92) and electronic media / internet ((playgroup 54%, mainstream 70%, p = 0.014, RR 0.78 (95% CI: 0.62 – 0.98)) than families attending mainstream services. Parents of Supported Playgroup children had greater difficulties accessing health information (playgroup 22%, mainstream 9%, p < 0.001, RR 2.48 (95% CI: 1.44 – 4.27)), understanding information (playgroup 22%, mainstream 9%, p = 0.002, RR 2.46 (95% CI: 1.41 – 4.21)) and applying information (playgroup 36%, mainstream 17% p < 0.001, RR 2.11 (95% CI: 1.44 – 3.10)). 

    Conclusion: The evidence of greater disadvantage reported by parents of children from supported playground compared with parents attending mainstream services is compelling and requires new culturally-applicable approaches with an understanding of child health knowledge translation within families from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds.
    Date of AwardMar 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSelma Liberato (Supervisor)

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