Sure Starts and healthy eating

A major social policy priority

Encouraging healthy lifestyles is a key Government priority as obesity levels for 2 – 10 year olds continue to rise. Researching and understanding the eating habits of families in Sure Start areas can help local partnerships to encourage healthier eating in line with the Every Child Matters agenda.

Eating behaviour under investigation

In 2006 Sure Start Children’s Centres in Lincolnshire commissioned Qa Research to investigate the eating behaviour of local families, assess the impact of local services on eating habits and nutritional intake, and investigate barriers to healthy eating. The findings would inform a major new education and engagement campaign.

Qa Research used traditional techniques such as desk research, surveys and focus groups with parents alongside more innovative “food diaries” to gain insight into the challenges facing families and local and central government agencies responsible for promoting healthier eating.

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Researching and understanding the eating habits of families in Sure Start areas can help local partnerships to encourage healthier eating in line with the Every Child Matters agenda

Families were asked to complete the food diaries for one week in August 2006 and for a second week two months later. The food diaries were created to:

  • help families critically assess their own diets
  • compare and contrast differences in diet for the two evaluation periods

Families were also encouraged to write any other comments about the food and drink their family consumed each day and why they made certain choices. This simple but effective tool encouraged participation without any of the time pressures associated with interviews or focus groups.

Research as a catalyst for change

The study assessed whether Sure Start local activity effectively encourages healthy eating and what more could be done to improve the promotion and delivery of services.

The findings highlighted how local Sure Start partnerships can use simple but effective tools to develop new policies and campaigns which will have a positive effect on the health and well-being of local stakeholders

Service delivery at Lincolnshire Sure Start partnerships has since been transformed by the development of new strategies which are promoting healthy eating more effectively than any previous campaign.

For more details e-mail becky.gulc@qaresearch.co.uk or call 01904 632039