Exploring the Nutrition Environment: Childcare Facilities

Written by Sophia Navarro
Summer 2018

This summer, I had the pleasure of conducting food systems research at the Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) in Berkeley, California. Housed within the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and National Resources, NPI is an organization that conducts and evaluates research on the influence of nutrition on public health. This post describes some of the major projects I have been working on over the past months.

Healthy Beverages in Childcare Study

The Healthy Beverages in Childcare study is based on the fact that nearly 1 in 4 American children between the ages of 2 to 5 begin elementary school overweight or obese and that the introduction of healthy foods, beverages, and practices early on in life can lead to long-lasting healthy behaviors. The childcare setting is the ideal environment to implement program and policy interventions to target obesity prevention because 70 percent of children spend their time in childcare centers and homes outside of their own home and receive a large portion of their daily nutrition from these sites. In 2012, California adopted the Healthy Beverages in Childcare Act (AB 2084) which regulates the amount and type of beverages that may be served to children in California childcare facilities. The law promotes drinking water and prohibits sugar sweetened beverages, juice, and 2 percent and full-fat milk for children aged 2 years and older. However, not many childcare employees are in compliance with this policy. In response to this, NPI initiated the development of an online training on healthy beverages in California childcare facilities across Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, San Francisco, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare, Kings, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. Last semester, I supported this project with participant recruitment and outreach and transitioned into helping more with data analysis of related projects this summer. Working alongside other graduate student interns, I aided with data cleaning of a statewide survey of California childcare settings and beverage offerings for infants in those environments.

50-State Policy Scan on National Childcare Beverage Licensing Requirements

I also had the opportunity to start a new project this summer: conducting a 50-state policy scan of childcare beverage licensing requirements. The majority of American children under the age of five participate in childcare programs, where they receive up to two-thirds of their daily dietary intake. Given that these settings provide such a high proportion of a child’s nutrient needs, it is important for state beverage policies in childcare to promote the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits. Thus, this study seeks to provide a snapshot of the current state regulations and identify disparities between childcare beverage regulations by state. We worked in collaboration with Natasha Frost at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s Public Health Law Center, who created an infographic map for the United States, which presents data on child care regulations for health eating, active play, and screen time. Our study showed that less than 20 percent of states had beverage regulations and they were most common in states with a higher prevalence of childhood obesity, suggesting room for improvement across the nation for ensuring children in childcare settings are provided healthy beverages. The results for this research will be published soon, and will be used to inform future nutrition policy and practice in childcare facilities.

My Future in Food Systems

I am very grateful for my food systems research experience. I truly believe my internship has enriched my personal and academic collegiate experience. I loved being able to connect in-class concepts to real world issues and gaining research skills that will make me a valuable asset to improving food systems in the future. Conducting research at NPI has further encouraged me to pursue a path in public health nutrition, which will allow me to bridge my interests in public health and food systems. In the future, I hope to get my Master of Public Health Nutrition to help communities at the population level. I would love to continue researching the nutrition environment, especially as it relates to children and women, in order to continue to reduce health inequities and dietary-related illness.


Funding for this project was partially provided by the American Cultures Engaged Scholarship Program at UC Berkeley.

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