HDR Scholarship – Advancing the evidence on feeding practices and their impact on child diets, particularly related to snack-times (Deakin-Aston cotutelle PhD)


Year 1: Deakin, Burwood Campus | Year 2: Aston University, Birmingham UK | Year 3: Deakin, Burwood Campus

Young children’s diets are important determinants of both their short- and long-term health. Currently children’s diets, in Australia and internationally, are sub-optimal, being high in discretionary foods, and low in vegetables and fruits. 

The primary influence on the diets of young children is parents and home food environments, including parental feeding practices, i.e. how children are fed, not just what they are fed. Existing evidence identifies parent feeding practices which positively influence child diets including family meals, role modelling and covert restriction, and other feeding practices which negatively influence child diets, such as pressuring, rewarding and overt restriction. 

Limitations of the current evidence base are being largely cross-sectional, assuming a family meal “ideal”, and not differentiating feeding practices or intakes by meal type. For example, parents may utilise different feeding practices at breakfast, lunch or dinner, or in response to different environments. 

Little research has been conducted on snack times. Our own research shows that snacks are eaten frequently by young children, but infrequently contain vegetables, and often contain discretionary foods (Chui et al 2022). Compared with other meal types they are the least commonly eaten together with parents (i.e. least opportunity for role modelling) and most commonly eaten watching TV (Litterbach et al 2017). This suggests snacks as an opportunity in the day for the biggest improvements. But little is known about other feeding practices at snacks, or about the acceptability and feasibility of modifying snack times for parents, or considering them as a family meal opportunity. 


The proposed PhD can include: 

  • Analysis of Australian dataset/s examining whether feeding practices and/or family meals are associated with diet quality at different meal types (i.e. snacks vs dinner). 
  • Analysis of UK dataset/s examining data on family meal environments or observations, scenario-based feeding practices, food insecurity, and/or predictors of feeding practices. 
  • Leading data collection to explore parent perceptions of snacks as an opportunity for healthy food, healthy feeding practices, and family meals, and the feasibility of changing snack times. 


The successful student will have: 

  • Honours, Masters or equivalent research training meeting Deakin’s PhD entry requirements 
  • Nutrition and/or dietetics training to support detailed dietary analysis 
  • Interest and basic skills in statistics, mathematics and/or analysis 
  • Good written and interpersonal communication skills 
  • High attention to detail 
  • Initiative, problem-solving, and self-management skills 


Questions to Alison Spence or 

Application instructions at: (Deakin based) Advancing the evidence on feeding practices and their impact on child diets, particularly related to snack-times at Aston University on 

Back to PhD opportunities