Nutrient intake of Head Start children: home vs. school

M C Bollella, A Spark, L A Boccia, T A Nicklas, B P Pittman, C L Williams
Journal of the American College of Nutrition 1999, 18 (2): 108-14

OBJECTIVE: To determine mean intake of energy and protein, total fat, saturated fat, percent energy from total and saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrate, calcium, iron, zinc, folate, vitamins A, C, E, B-6 and B-12, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, magnesium, sodium and fiber of preschool Head Start children at school and away from school.

DESIGN: Twenty-four-hour food intakes for 358 Head Start children were obtained by observing food intake at school and acquiring intake recalls from parents or guardians specifying food their children consumed for the balance of the day. After determining group estimates of energy and nutrient intake, mean intake was compared to standard nutrient recommendations for the entire 24-hour day, i.e., for the time the children were in school and for the remaining hours away from school ("home" intake).

SUBJECTS: The 358 Head Start children attended school either half-day (2- to 3-hour AM and PM sessions) or all-day (5 to 6 hours).

STATISTICAL ANALYSES: Differences in nutrient intake among class times were analyzed using one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) followed by Tukey's multiple comparison test. Differences with a p-value <0.05 (two-tailed) were considered to be statistically significant. Total energy, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin as well as folate and magnesium were compared to the Recommended Dietary Allowances for the 4- to 6-year-old age group. Other standards that were used for comparisons included the National Cholesterol Education Program (fat, saturated fat and cholesterol), the 1989 National Research Council's Diet and Health Report (carbohydrate and sodium) and the recommendation for fiber proposed by the American Health Foundation.

RESULTS: At school, half-day children consumed up to 25% of the daily recommendation for energy and nutrients, while all-day children achieved at least a third of the recommended intakes. When intakes at home and school were combined, all three groups of children (AM, PM and all-day) exceeded dietary recommendations for protein, vitamins and minerals. Energy intake remained below 100% of the recommendation, while intake of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol exceeded recommendations.

APPLICATION: Further research is required to explore energy needs and determine nutritional status and nutrient needs of minority and low-income preschool children. Strategies are required to increase nutrient density, but not fat density, of meals and snacks served to children who attend day care for part of the day. Finally, school meals and nutrition education programs such as Team Nutrition should broaden their base to include healthful eating habits for all school children, including the very youngest children in preschool programs.

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