Nutrition and Health: Exploring New Zealand Children’s Knowledge and Beliefs
Background: Improving the health of children within a population benefits individuals, families and communities. A key component of health is a good diet. Nutrition education offers an opportunity to provide children with the skills and knowledge required to make healthy food choices. In the interest of developing effective nutrition education programmes, it is important for educators to understand what children know and believe about health and nutrition. In New Zealand, previous research has explored children’s views about health; however very few studies have investigated children’s understanding of food’s effect on health. Objective: The aim of this project was to explore what New Zealand children know, understand and believe about health and food’s influence on health. Design: This qualitative, cross-sectional study used semi-structured focus groups to explore the knowledge and beliefs of children between the ages of nine and eleven, in co-educational and state-operated schools in West and South Auckland. Focus groups were audio recorded and children completed forms detailing their demographic information. Audio recordings were transcribed and uploaded into NVivo 12, which was used to conduct a semi-deductive thematic analysis. Results: A total of 74 children from six schools in West and South Auckland participated in the study. Just over half of the participants were female (52.7 %) and most identified as New Zealand European/ Other (40 %) or New Zealand Māori (27 %). Five main themes relating to children’s beliefs about food’s influence on health were revealed: energy, sleep, illness, growth and brain health. Healthy eating and physical activity were thought to be the most important habits for good health and children primarily understood health to mean physical wellbeing. The importance of a ‘balanced diet’ was frequently discussed, which children interpreted as the consumption of both ‘healthy’ and processed foods in moderation. The predominant area of confusion for children was around the theme of energy and whether ‘healthy’ or processed food provided the most energy. Children were often able to identify sources of micronutrients, particularly vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and iron. Furthermore, children were occasionally able to explain the role that these micronutrients play in health. Conclusions: This study offered an introductory insight into New Zealand children’s views about health and nutrition, which future researchers can build upon to generate results that are reflective of children’s views throughout New Zealand. This study, in conjunction with subsequent studies, will provide nutrition educators with an insight into children’s beliefs, knowledge and gaps in knowledge, which will help to inform and improve future nutrition education programmes.
Advisor: Skeaff, Sheila; Skeaff, Murray
Degree Name: Master of Dietetics
Degree Discipline: Nutrition
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Children; Beliefs; Knowledge; Nutrition; Food; Health; New Zealand
Research Type: Thesis