Evaluating the Impact of New Beverage Nutrition Standards in Licensed Childcare in California

The Policy Evaluated

In 2008, research was conducted to examine food and drink practices and policies in childcare settings in California. Findings from this study were used to develop one of the most comprehensive beverage standards in the nation; California’s Healthy Beverages in Childcare Act was implemented in January 2012 to regulate beverages in licensed childcare.

In 2011, the research team evaluated the implementation and impact of this new law.

About the Evaluation

A survey of a randomly selected sample of California childcare sites was conducted to measure compliance with the law, and implementation facilitators and barriers. Surveys were collected from 435 childcare providers serving approximately 34,000 two- to five-year-olds in California.

Interviews with childcare providers, licensing officials, other key informants were conducted to understand their views about the new childcare beverage law. Researchers also visited childcare centers to measure differences in how the law was implemented.

A policy convening was held to review the study findings and to identify opportunities to improve knowledge of the law and support effective implementation.

Knowledge and Impact

  • Overall, compliance with the Healthy Beverages law averaged 38 percent across all childcare sites surveyed.
  • Forty-four percent of childcare centers enrolled in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) were in compliance with the law compared to 24 percent of non-CACFP centers.
  • Most sites surveyed (79%) reported that they experienced no barriers in serving children lower fat milk, and more water and less juice and sweetened beverages.

Key Recommendations

After reviewing the study findings, the policy convening recommended the following actions:

  • Use the research findings to inform federal regulations and to help shape other state and local efforts to adopt healthy beverage legislation.
  • Educate providers to make water easily available and accessible to children in childcare throughout the day, including on the table at meals and snacks.
  • Include healthy beverage recommendations in all childcare nutrition guidance and nutrition resources.
  • Require free or low cost nutrition training to become a licensed childcare center.
  • Require that all on-duty staff and parents who bring in beverages for meals, snacks or celebrations adhere to these healthy beverage standards.

Details of California’s Healthy Beverages in Childcare Act:

  • Drinking water should be available and accessible at all times
  • Sweetened beverages, natural or artificial, are not allowed at any time
  • No more than one serving per day of 100% juice
  • Only unflavored, low-fat (1%) or nonfat milk can be served to children two years and older