A nutrition screening tool developed in Sudbury has become the provincial standard for health units to assess the nutritional status of pre-schoolers.
The NutriSTEP tool, first developed by dieticians with the Sudbury and District Health Unit in 1998, has been recognized as a necessary standard for all Ontario health units 16 years later.
“It has been a long process and has gained a lot of momentum over the years,” said Shannon Labre, a dietician with the Sudbury and District Health Unit.
The program includes a 17-question survey made to determine a child's diet and parents' access to healthy foods.
The questionnaire, available online at nutritionscreen.ca, asks parents to report how often their toddler eats fruits and vegetables, dairy products, grains and meats each day.
Parents are also asked to say how often their child eats fast food, and answer questions related to their child's level of physical activity.
When they complete the questionnaire online they receive feedback based on their answers that tells them what they are doing right and what they can do to improve their child's health and diet.
Labre said it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet for a toddler due to parents' busy lives and less-than-adequate access to healthy food in some cases.
“They (toddlers) need small frequent meals and they need nutritious foods because they are growing really fast,” she said.
In addition to the online questionnaire, parents can also access NutriSTEP at Sudbury's Best Start Hubs.
At the Best Start Hubs, they can receive feedback from a dietician on their toddler's health and what they can do to improve their diet.
The health unit started a study of the NutriSTEP tool last April, where it screened 97 children to determine their health outcomes and the quality of their diets.
Labre said the health unit has not finished analyzing the data from that study, but should release results in June.