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"Monkey see, monkey do": Peers' behaviors predict preschoolers' physical activity and dietary intake in childcare centers

Preschoolers observe and imitate the behaviors of those who are similar to them. Therefore, peers may be role models for preschoolers' dietary intake and physical activity in childcare centers. This study examined whether peers' behaviors predict change in preschoolers' dietary intake and physical activity in childcare centers over 9 months. A total of 238 preschoolers (3 to 5 years old) from 23 childcare centers in two Canadian provinces provided data at the beginning (October 2013 and 2014) and the end (June 2014 and 2015) of a 9-month period for this longitudinal study. Dietary intake was collected at lunch using weighed plate waste and digital photography on two consecutive weekdays. Physical activity was assessed using accelerometers over five days. Multilevel linear regressions were used to estimate the influence of peers' behaviors on preschoolers' change in dietary intake and physical activity over 9 months. Results showed that preschoolers whose dietary intake or physical activity level deviated the most from those of their peers at the beginning of the year demonstrated greater change in their intakes and activity levels over 9 months, which enabled them to become more similar to their peers (all [beta] 95% CI ranged from -0.835 to -0.074). This study suggests that preschoolers' dietary intake and physical activity may be influenced by the behaviors of their peers in childcare centers. Since peers could play an important role in promoting healthy eating behaviors and physical activity in childcare centers, future studies should test interventions based on positive role modeling by children. (author abstract)
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Reports & Papers

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