Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Reach Out and Eat: Food and Beverages Depicted in Books for Preschoolers

England, J.L., Linchey, J., Madsen, K.A., Patel, A.I. (2015) Reach Out and Eat: Food and Beverages Depicted in Books for Preschoolers. Clinical Pediatrics (Phila), 54(13), 1257-1264.,

Access: FREE/Open Access

Publication year


study description

Content analysis.

core topic(s)

Reach Out and Read (ROR)

Population Characteristics



To examine food and beverage depictions in books for preschoolers.


Reach Out and Read (ROR) books.

outcomes evaluated

Nutritive and empty-food and beverage depictions in books.




Books for preschoolers from Reach Out and Read (ROR; n = 42), public library (n = 27), and Publisher’s Weekly booklists (n = 31) were examined for nutritive and empty-calorie food and beverage depictions.

sample size

n=42 (ROR books); n=27 (library books); n=31 (Publisher's Weekly booklists books); n=97 (total books)


Measure of Food/Beverage Nutrition: nutrition categories classified using USDA my pyramid categories. Other nutritive measures include: mentions, types of, contexts of, and positive/negative/neutral messages of nutritive food, empty calorie food, and beverages in book text or illustration.


It was found that 66% of books depicted at least 1 food or beverage. More books depicted nutritive items than empty-calorie items (87.5% vs 54.7%, P < .001). There was a trend toward fewer empty-calorie depictions in ROR books than in other booklists. Yet nearly half of ROR books depicted at least 1 empty-calorie item. ROR books also accounted for 5 of 10 books with the most empty-calorie item depictions and 3 of 4 books with branding. With regard to messaging, approximately a third of books with the most empty-calorie depictions promoted unhealthy foods.


When selecting books for ROR, it may be important to consider food and beverage depictions and messages.


First, our small sample size of 97 books may have limited our power to detect differences in food and beverage depictions among booklists. Additionally, coding of food and beverage items into broad USDA My Pyramid categories may have decreased our ability to detect potential differences in nutritional content within the categories. For example, 1 cup of cheddar cheese has significantly more calories, fat, and saturated fat than 1 cup of low-fat milk, but we categorized both food items in the healthy dairy category. Although this study was a content analysis, future experimental studies could further investigate how both mentions of food and beverages as well as context influence young children's eating patterns.