CSU Receives $1.5 Million to Track Preschool Nutrition and Physical Activity Program into Kindergarten and First Grade

Colorado State University researchers were recently awarded $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to study whether preschoolers in a nutrition and physical activity program maintain positive behaviors as they get older and attend elementary school.

Laura Bellows and Jennifer Anderson in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Patti Davies in the Department of Occupational Therapy, were awarded the grant. Bellows and Anderson’s research has successfully demonstrated that two preschool intervention programs developed at Colorado State University, The Food Friends: Fun with New Foods and The Food Friends: Get Movin’ with Mighty Moves, increases children’s willingness to try new foods and their gross motor performance.

“Statistics show that the number of obese preschool-aged children in the United States is increasing. One out of every three preschool-aged children is considered to be obese or overweight. Preschool years are a critical time to begin obesity prevention efforts because it represents a time when young children establish healthy eating habits and physical activity patterns,” Bellows said. “We are now carrying that a step further to determine whether children who participate in the preschool program continue to maintain their willingness to try new foods and their enhanced motor performance in elementary school.”

In this study, the researchers also will investigate whether The Food Friends and Mighty Moves programs have an impact on reducing the percentage of children considered obese and overweight over a three year timeframe, and the effect food preference, dietary consumption, gross motor performance and physical activity have on children’s weight.

As part of the new study, booster activities for kindergarten and first grade children who participated in the preschool programs will be developed. The booster activities will be centered around nutrition and physical activity and will be for school and home. The study will compare outcomes for children who participated in the preschool and booster activities, the preschool program alone and children who received no programming.

The Food Friends is a 12 week program in which the concept of trying new foods is brought to life in a fun way for pre-school aged children using character puppets, storybooks and flash cards. Two novel foods, a daikon radish and gouda cheese, are served repeatedly to find out whether children are more likely to try a new food after repeated exposure.

Mighty Moves is an 18 week program in which each week focuses on a skill or group of skills from one of the three gross motor skill categories: stability such as balance while standing on one foot; locomotor, which includes running and jumping; and manipulative, including throwing and kicking. A theme song and musical CD help The Food Friends characters as they lead the children through a series of activities.

“We believe that data from this study will result in specific recommendations for obesity prevention interventions among young children,” said Bellows.

The Departments of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Occupational Therapy are in the College of Applied Human Sciences.

The goal of the USDA grant program is to identify the behavioral factors that influence obesity and provide funding to programs that help prevent it.