Research and Breakthroughs

Can Preschoolers Make Healthy Choices While Shopping for Groceries?

Evidence-based research proves they can with early education

A field trip to the local Ralph’s was a first for the Wiz Kids Preschool in Culver City, CA. Thirty preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 were marched down Overland Avenue to shop for healthy food items from the produce and dairy sections at the market. Equipped with an illustrated grocery list and play money, the kids were escorted on their mission by teachers, moms and research coordinators. The purpose of the field trip was to expose the young children to healthy food options. The approach may also motivate parents to encourage healthy eating habits in their kids. 

Once back in the classroom, the children were shown how to create a snack using the items they purchased.

Field trips like these, along with other community outreach activities, are the result of an innovative study conducted by Larry Yin, MD, MSPH, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles called Developing Healthy Habits Through Exploration: Preschoolers and a Trip to the Supermarket.

As principal investigator of the study, Yin examined the impact of child-oriented grocery store tours as a tool to expose preschoolers to healthful foods. Published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics , the study concluded that such tours increased preschoolers’ exposure to healthful foods and encouraged parents to include children in choosing such healthful foods. It was funded by the Department of Public Health - Choose Health LA Kids Program, First 5 LA.

Among low-income preschoolers in the U.S., about 30% are overweight or obese, and including nearly 17 percent of 2 to 4-year-olds in low-income families in California. Childhood obesity increases the risk factors for developing heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Because preschoolers’ dietary behaviors are influenced by parents, families and community, long-range plans for the program will focus on continued partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Health and other interested community programs.

“We’ve been involved with a number of campaigns to increase access to healthier foods in our community, and we’ve conducted eight grocery tours so far, reaching 50 parents and 86 preschoolers throughout the Westside in Los Angeles,” said Dr. Yin. “All of these programs support our collective childhood obesity prevention efforts.”

Image credit: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles