Abt Team Assesses U.S. Child Care Programs’ Nutrition and Wellness Practices
Rockville, Md. – The Study of Nutrition and Activity in Child Care Settings (SNACS) is the first national study in 25 years of nutrition and wellness practices in child care programs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
The USDA Food and Nutrition Service funded the Abt Associates team, including a partnership with the University of Cincinnati, to survey and conduct full-day, in-person observations of hundreds of child care centers, Head Start programs, and family child care homes. Key findings recently released in peer-reviewed journals included:
- Menu quality. Results published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior confirmed quality of CACFP meal and snack menus. Most breakfasts (97%), lunches (88%), and afternoon snacks (97%) included all required CACFP meal components, aligning with national dietary guidance. But there is room for improvement, particularly for increasing vegetables served and limiting foods high in added sugar and fat.
- Child nutrition. An article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found higher quality diets of U.S. children in CACFP programs on days they were in care. However, dietary intake continues to fall short of Dietary Guidelines for Americans on both child care days and non-child care days. Average intake of vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and oils falls below recommendations, while intake of solid fats and added sugar is higher than recommended.
- Physical activity. An article in Pediatrics found room for improvement in physical activity opportunities while in care. While 74 percent of programs met national guidance on sufficient number of outdoor opportunities, weather permitting, just 50 percent met guidance of at least 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity, and only 43 percent met both standards. Weather and staff not participating in outdoor play were associated with 74 and 31 fewer minutes devoted to physical activity, respectively.
Since 60% of preschool-aged children in the U.S. attend formal child care, nutrition and physical activity practices in these settings can have a substantial influence on overall child wellness. SNACS findings confirm the positive contribution of CACFP-participating child care programs to child dietary quality and nutrition, while highlighting areas where additional improvement is needed.
About Abt Associates
Abt Associates is a global consulting and research firm that combines data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people's lives. We partner with clients and communities to advance equity and innovation—from creating scalable digital solutions and combatting infectious disease, to mitigating climate change and evaluating programs for measurable social impact. https://www.abtassociates.com