Evaluation of a pilot sensory play intervention to increase fruit acceptance in preschool children
Abstract Recent research has found an association between dislike of messy play and higher levels of food neophobia in children. The aim of the present study was to pilot and assess a five week intervention with preschool children, to examine whether engagement in tactile sensory tasks leads to increased fruit acceptance. Interventions were carried out to examine whether weekly sessions of sensory play combined with fruit exposure, would increase acceptance and enjoyment of fruits to a greater extent than two non-sensory play conditions featuring fruit exposure or normal play activities alone. One hundred children aged 18 months to four years were recruited from ten playgroups in the Midlands area of the United Kingdom (UK) of which 83 completed the interventions. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: combined sensory play (fruit and non-food), non-food sensory play, fruit taste exposure, and control play. There were baseline differences in child fruit acceptance, so this was entered as a covariate into subsequent analyses. It was found that children in both the combined sensory play and non-food sensory play conditions enjoyed significantly more fruits at follow up than children in the control play condition, whilst children in the non-food sensory play group also enjoyed significantly more fruits than the fruit exposure group. These findings suggest that sensory play, with fruit and/or non-food substances, combined with exposure may be an effective strategy to increase tasting and fruit acceptance in children.
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