Easy, flexible access to produce, resources boosts healthy eating for kids

What children eat affects their lifelong health. But influencing their habits can be difficult, especially for underserved families with fewer resources. However, providing caregivers easy access to produce and flexible resources can lead to improvements in kids’ diets in a short time, according to a new study from researchers at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin.

The randomized clinical trial, published today in JAMA Network Open, was led by Dell Med’s Factor Health initiative and funded by a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The team set out to assess what impact providing caregivers with four weeks of free tastings of produce and grocery gift cards would have on their ability to adjust their children’s diets.

“We know that people in general, including kids, do not consume the daily recommended amount of fruits and veggies,” said Maninder “Mini” Kahlon, Ph.D., director and founder of Factor Health. “We wanted to see if we could support caregivers in improving their child’s diet through easy access to fresh produce as well as flexible resources they could use as they wanted, based on their priorities.”

The two-group randomized clinical trial was conducted from May to July 2021. Researchers began by offering food and grocery store gift cards to caregivers enrolled in an existing curbside program managed by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area (BGCAA). Every week for four weeks, caregivers were given 10-pound boxes of fruits and vegetables at BGCAA sites and $10 gift cards for the grocery store H-E-B.

“These families were already part of our ‘Club on the Go’ program, which was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jenn Barnes, director of club operations at BGCAA. “Integrating the food box and gift card delivery into their regular site visit eliminated the burden and inconvenience of making an additional trip to pick them up.”

At four- and eight-week intervals, researchers assessed child and caregiver diets using the Texas School Physical Activity and Nutrition (Texas SPAN) tool, which was developed by the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living. They observed that, on average, children ate healthier foods two additional times per day, compared with the control group, and healthy eating behaviors continued after the program ended.

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