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A randomised controlled trial and mediation analysis of the ‘Healthy Habits’, telephone-based dietary intervention for preschool children

Amanda Fletcher1, Luke Wolfenden23456*, Rebecca Wyse25, Jenny Bowman1, Patrick McElduff25 and Sarah Duncan1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Psychology, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

2 School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

3 Priority Research Centre Health Behaviour, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

4 Priority Research Centre Physical Activity and Nutrition, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

5 Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), Newcastle, NSW, Australia

6 Hunter New England Population Health, Locked Bag 10, Wallsend, NSW, 2298, Australia

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:43  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-43

Published: 8 April 2013



Consumption of non-core foods in childhood is associated with excessive weight gain in childhood. Parents play a vital role in establishing healthy diet behaviours in young children. The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of a telephone-based intervention in reducing child consumption of non-core foods, and to examine parent and home food environment mediators of change in child consumption.


The ‘Healthy Habits’ trial utilised a clustered randomised controlled design.


Parents were recruited from 30 preschools (N = 394 participants, mean age 35.2±5.6 years). Parents randomized to the intervention group received four telephone contacts and print materials. Parents allocated to the control condition receive generic print materials only. Non-core food consumption was assessed using a validated child dietary questionnaire at baseline, 2 and 6 months post recruitment in 2010.


The intervention was effective in reducing child consumption of non-core foods at 2 months (intention to treat analysis: z=-2.83, p<.01), however this effect was not maintained at 6 months. Structural equation modelling using 2 month data indicated that child access to non-core foods in the home and child feeding strategies mediated the effect of the intervention.


The telephone-based intervention shows promise in improving short term dietary behaviour in preschool age children, however further development is needed to sustain the effect in the long-term.

Trial registration

Australian Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12609000820202