A Queensland survey shows early childhood educators have poor nutrition knowledge, prompting calls from dietitians for ongoing nutrition education programs.

The baseline survey of more than 1,740 early childhood educators from long-day-care, family-day-care and kindergartens across Queensland found only two per cent of those surveyed answered all 11 nutrition questions correctly.

Researcher Phoebe Cleland from the Queensland University of Technology will present her study findings at the Dietitians Association of Australia’s National Conference in Melbourne this week.

“Our survey found many early childhood education and care staff need support to build their nutrition knowledge, but they’re not aware of this – with many educators saying they feel confident in this area. This mix of low knowledge with high confidence could mean the wrong nutrition messages are reaching children and families,” she says.

Her research shows only one in two educators knew that red meat is one of the highest sources of iron, more than a third (37 per cent) overestimated how many serves of fruit children aged 2-3 years need each day, and 55 per cent overestimated how many serves of dairy.

However, more educators knew the screen time guidelines for young children.

The survey was done before early childhood educators took part in the LEAPS (Learning, Eating, Active Play, Sleep) professional development program, which has reached more than 490 early childhood education and care services, 2,800 educators and 33,000 children over the last three years.

Phoebe says LEAPS is the first professional development program for early childhood education and care staff funded by the Queensland Government to support early childhood services to implement the National Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Guidelines for Early Childhood Settings (or ‘Get Up and Grow’ guidelines), which were released in 2009.

“The results from the survey show the importance of providing professional development and support to early childhood education and care services when new health guidelines are released,” she says.

Dietitians Association of Australia president Liz Kellett says “Children’s eating practices are being set for life in the early years, so child care educators have a wonderful opportunity to influence good habits and life-long health.”

“They’re on the ground talking to children about healthy and not-so-healthy choices, and also modelling healthy eating, so the potential to make a positive difference is huge.”

Queensland University of Technology will release a final LEAPS evaluation report later in the year.