U of G Researchers Develop Tool to Improve Nutrition

November 13, 2012 - News Release

A new screening tool to improve toddlers’ nutrition and avert potentially costly health problems has been developed by a team led by University of Guelph researchers.

The one-of-a-kind NutriSTEP questionnaire for parents of children 18 to 35 months of age was released this month. It was developed by U of G researchers working with the Sudbury and District Health Unit and provincial partners.

The tool is designed to help parents check their kids’ eating habits and prevent future health problems and health-care expenses, said Janis Randall Simpson, a professor in U of G’s Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition (FRAN).

“We know nutritional problems are rampant in Canada, particularly obesity,” she said. “Any questionnaire that would help alert parents to good nutritional practices could avoid potential problems down the line.”

Ten to 20 per cent of preschoolers are at risk for nutritional problems, based on data from the existing NutriSTEP screening tool for three- to five-year-olds. That questionnaire was developed in 2008 by Randall Simpson, former FRAN professor Heather Keller and others.

The new toddler questionnaire was developed by researchers at Guelph and research assistants from the University of Guelph-Humber.

Both screening questionnaires have been used at public health units in Ontario and other provinces, including New Brunswick and Alberta. They are promoted by the Ontario College of Family Physicians, and licences are available from the U of G’s Catalyst Centre. By spring 2013, the questionnaires will be available online through the Dietitians of Canada website.

Both 17-item questionnaires ask about dietary intake, eating habits, developmental feeding issues, supplement use, physical activity, TV-watching, and computer and video-game use.

By scoring their answers, parents can quickly learn whether they might need to improve their children’s eating or activity habits, perhaps by consulting a public health unit or a health professional, said Randall Simpson.

“We are finding out that the questionnaires are a learning experience for parents.”

The researchers have also developed educational guides for parents.

The NutriSTEP questionnaires have been developed partly with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Shiona Mackenzie, Ext. 56982, or shiona@uoguelph.ca.

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