Why nutrition matters in the early years
24th May 2017
By Nicola Calder, EYN Partnership registered nutrition professional
Currently, one in five children in the UK starts school overweight or obese.1 There is a lot of evidence supporting the need for good nutrition in the earliest years of a child’s life. Not only do overweight and obese children get ill more frequently, they are also more likely to grow into overweight and obese adults, and have a higher risk of future health problems and disability, and even premature death.2,3
Good nutrition is also vital for cognitive and physical development, with ‘readiness for school’ currently an important indicator for Ofsted, it is important that we consider food provision within that context. There are strong associations between a child’s social background and their readiness for school. The quality of a child’s early experience is vital for their future success.4
The early years provide us with a window of opportunity to influence the dietary habits of young children that could have a far-reaching impact into their futures, and help them to become healthy and happy adults.
Of course there are lots of reasons why UK children have problems with their diets, but the impact of social deprivation on family diets should not be underestimated. In Manchester where I live and work 36% of children are thought to be living in relative poverty,5 and shockingly over 77,000 children received emergency food parcels in the North West in 2015/16.6
I think that for parents or carers facing financial pressures early years settings are in a unique position to support families. Increasing numbers of children are in formalised childcare for at least part of the week, it can only be positive if they can offer food that is nutritious and varied to the children in their care, and help steer young children’s attitudes to food in a positive direction.
Within the Early Years Nutrition Partnership, myself and my colleagues are enjoying creating tailored programmes which include training and support for practitioners to help enhance the nutrition practice of the settings we work with. We want managers and practitioners to feel confident in the food provision and experiences children are offered within nurseries and ultimately the information that is cascaded to parents. We know some settings have more resources and facilities than others, but we know that by working together and understanding the challenges each setting faces we can help them make significant changes regardless of their resources. We are also committed to providing subsidised access to the programme to the settings in areas of highest need.
What we really hope and desire is that we can instil a belief in nursery owners, managers and all early years practitioners that they can make a huge difference to young children’s lives and futures by prioritising their nutrition. That’s why I’m so excited to come to Childcare Expo to share that message with the passionate practitioners from the North West! See you there!
- Health and Social Care Information Centre. National Child Measurement Programme – England, 2014-15 report.
- Public Health England. About Obesity. Child Obesity. Health Risks. Available at: http://bit.ly/2oC2h8V
- Public Health England. About Obesity. Obesity and Health. Health Risks of Childhood Obesity. Available at: http://bit.ly/2gSALOh
- Are You Ready? Good Practice in School Readiness. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/are-you-ready-good-practice-in-school-readiness
- Public Health Outcomes Framework. Public Health England. Available at: http://bit.ly/2nJ38kt
- Latest stats. The Trussell Trust. Available at: http://bit.ly/1ORuOMt