Dr Emma Haycraft

Reader in Psychology - Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Emma explores ways to ensure the healthy development of children and adolescents. Her passion is children’s eating behaviour and caregiver feeding practices. Much of her work considers the interactions between caregivers and young people – particularly in relation to feeding – but she is also interested in the benefits of physical activity, the potential impacts of sedentary screen-viewing behaviour, and ways to promote optimal early childhood development.

In recognition of  her commitment to excellent teaching and learning, Emma is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Creating practical solutions to help caregivers address fussy eating in young children – encouraging healthy habits for life

Obesity is common in the UK – it’s estimated that one in five children aged 10-11 are living with obesity. This alarming statistic has put healthy eating more firmly on people’s radars with caregivers increasingly wanting to help their children to develop good eating habits for life.

In 2018, fewer than one in five children aged 5-15 ate five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

It’s not always easy to encourage healthy eating in young children, and worried caregivers regularly report a lack of credible support.

England's health trends

My work tries to address the support gap, drawing on more than a decade of research to provide practical ways to overcome some of the more common pitfalls.

I'm really proud of the Child Feeding Guide – created in collaboration with my colleagues, Dr Gemma Witcomb and Professor Claire Farrow.

Child with banana

It’s a free online resource for caregivers which shares research-informed tips and tools – and is recommended by the NHS, British Heart Foundation as well as various healthcare and family information services and online parents’ groups.

Another practical tool I’ve co-developed – with Professor Claire Farrow – is Vegetable Maths Masters, a free app for children. Drawing on our research, it combines fun games to practise maths skills with exposure to vegetables which has been shown to help children to learn to like – and to eat – more of these foods.

It’s really important to educate and explain to caregivers that not all children will eat everything and that it can take time to learn to like foods, particularly unfamiliar or bitter tastes. It’s a typical part of children’s development and, for the vast majority, it's absolutely nothing to worry about.

We all eat, so everyone can relate to research that looks at eating behaviours. My work is helping families – and especially children – to eat more healthily.

Boy with fruit and biscuits

We also provide CPD-UK accredited online training for health and childcare professionals, and contribute to a range of publications including Danone Institute International’s Nurturing Children’s Healthy Eating report (2018) and a scientific statement for the American Heart Association, Caregiver influences on eating behaviors in young children.

A tangent we’ve also been exploring is children’s emotional eating behaviours – eating when they feel happy or sad or bored. We’ve also looked at the emerging prevalence of children’s unhealthy snacking and screen use behaviours and how to support families to instil healthy behaviours in their school-age children.

Other projects I’m currently involved in are investigating child nutrition and child development in Kenya, Peru and South Africa. We’re working with local partners to develop ways to foster optimal child development and feeding, while providing effective support for caregivers.

Child feeding research at Loughborough University

My research journey

I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Birmingham. In 2007, I joined Loughborough as a Lecturer in Psychology and, in May 2018, I was appointed Reader in Psychology.

Throughout my career, it’s been really important to me to share my research findings with those who will benefit from them. I’ve always been motivated to address real problems and – working with partners and stakeholders – find practical solutions.

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