Development of a Food Dudes Healthy Eating Programme for preschool children in nursery settings, and their families at home (The Academic Perspective)

Student: Catherine Sharp
Company: Food Dudes Health Ltd (SR)
Academic Supervisor: Dr Pauline Horne & Dr Mihela Erjavec

The Project

The KESS project was a development of an early year’s nursery intervention for children to learn to eat fruits and vegetables; it was undertaken in co-operation with our company partner Food Dudes. Food Dudes have award winning programmes proven to work with children who are in primary schools, however because we know that eating habits are established early on, we know that we should intervene as early as possible.

The KESS project was to develop an intervention for children who were about 2-3 years old and then pilot it in nurseries in the area. To my knowledge this is the only project of its kind that has successfully completed the research and immediately translated the results by the company into a commercially viable product, therefore an intervention that can be administered in nurseries nationwide.

Catherine Sharp – The student

Undertaking the research with a company partner was so much better for Catherine than doing the straightforward purely academic Masters because she has been totally involved in the company; they have been very welcoming, Catherine has been accepted as part of the team at Food Dudes and if you ask anybody in Food Dudes she is seen as one of them and will continue to be one of them, which is fantastic.

During the project Catherine was able to gain access to every aspect of the company’s operation, so gaining insight not just in what she is going to do, but how various programmes work; she was then able to draw on that experience and use it in her own work.

Catherine has been able to develop real life skills; she has been involved with talking to suppliers of fruit and vegetables, the catering companies, negotiating with them, and working with the nurseries. She was able to participate in decision making within the company to do with finances, and all kinds of things that you would not do as part of a standard Masters programme.

Catherine is continuing her work with Food Dudes as she has secured funding through the Coleg Cenedlaethol Cymraeg to move on with her PhD, this means that she can continue to work with the early year’s programme, making it better, combining it with exercise, and specifically looking at parental materials.


In the long term, as a result of this project, the research is going to change the health of children; we know from existing research that something that influences their behaviour this early on is likely to carry on into childhood and even adulthood.

With this type of research there is potential for addressing inequalities, something that is very prominent in Wales, which has the highest rates of obesity among children in Europe. What we have found is that children from poorer backgrounds are less likely to eat healthy food, which leads to poor developmental outcomes in all sorts of ways from academic to health, employability and so forth. While engaging with these groups we have found that they are the most likely to increase their intake of fruit and vegetables.

When Food Dudes begin a project in an area the aim wherever possible is to use local suppliers for the fruit and vegetables, Food Dudes also employ staff locally to run the programmes. There is a definite economic impact on the area, with the research generating jobs that wouldn’t otherwise come to the area.

Environmentally, eating lots of fruit and vegetables displaces junk foods in children’s diets; this is something that we have been able to show. It’s also important of course to eat locally grown food which is seasonal whenever possible. To enjoy this you need to have developed a taste for a variety of fruits and vegetables and this is what the programme does; it expands the children’s repertoire of foods that they find acceptable and tasty.

The work that we have done with Food Dudes will also be going into the REF submission as an impact case study. This project is one part of Food Dudes work which School will be submitting as an impact case study.

Future Research

As a result of the research undertaken by Catherine and the collaborative relationship that we have with Food Dudes we are looking at a number of different projects, also utilising KESS as a mechanism for funding.

One of the research possibilities is looking at the energy balance in children’s lives; it’s not only about what children put in their mouths, it’s also about the energy they expend through exercise and so forth. So this year we will be developing a KESS masters project looking at the exercise component of the Food Dudes programme, and then looking at what kinds of activities would be appropriate and how we can get children to do them, using the same behaviour change principles that we use for changing the diet.

Another project that we have, commissioned in Denbighshire, is looking at improving eating in special schools; special schools have the highest rates of obesity and the worst eating habits, around half of the children have autism spectrum disorders specifically to do with food, they will reject food, so it’s a challenge. There is not a programme in the world that can go into a school and change the behaviour of the whole school. We have a challenge and our work this year will be to develop and trial the intervention in special schools, this will be the first in the world and I am quite confident that it will work. This is the first controlled trial. We have had positive results in previous pilots.

KESS Round-up

I have found the staff centrally very helpful and lovely, I have been able to simply pick up the phone and they have been more than willing to help with the queries that I have had. There are timesheets, but its very light touch in comparison to other funding bodies.

Being able to work with companies is great and the projects are resourced very well, KESS has sufficient resources for the student to do the work and that is not always the case with grants. Catherine has done a lot of travelling going around the nurseries every day for months, we couldn’t have done it without the travel budged provided by KESS.