Systematic observation of healthy eating environments in afterschool services: A cross-sectional study

Publication Name

Public Health Nutrition


Objectives: Few studies have examined the healthy eating environments within the Australian out of school hours care (OSHC) setting. This study aims to describe healthy eating environments, consisting of: a) the alignment of provided food and beverages to Australian Dietary Guidelines; b) healthy eating promotion practices; c) nutrition education through cooking experiences; d) staff role modelling healthy eating and; e) regular water availability. Design: A cross-sectional study was conducted using direct observations and the validated System for Observing Staff Promotion of Activity and Nutrition (SOSPAN) tool. Setting: OSHC located in urban and semi-rural regions of NSW, Australia. Participants: Staff (151) and children (1,549) attending 12 OSHC services operating in the hours after school. Results: Fifty percent (50%) of services offered fruit and 100% offered water as a part of the afternoon snack on all four observation days. Discretionary foods were offered on more days compared to vegetables (+1.9/d, p=.009), lean meats (+2.7/d, p=.004) and whole grains (+2.8/d, p=.002). Staff promoted healthy eating on 15% of days, sat and ate with children 52%, consumed high sugar drinks 15% and ate discretionary foods in front of children 8% of days, respectively. No opportunities for cooking or nutrition education were observed. Conclusion: Afternoon snacks regularly contained fruit and water. Opportunities exist to improve the frequency by which vegetables, whole grains and lean meats are offered in addition to staff healthy eating promotion behaviours. Future research is warranted to further explore healthy eating behaviours, practices and policies within the after school sector.

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