Nurseries Can Help Tackle the Child Obesity Scourge

Friday 23th August 2019
LEYF Obesity blog

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Guest Blog by June O’Sullivan MBE, CEO of London Early Years Foundation

The child obesity statistics have increased again.

Children (18% of boys and 21% of girls) aged between 2 and 4 are overweight and once they reach Reception this will equate to 1 in 4 children overweight or obese. By the time they reach Year 6 the numbers will have increased to 1 in 3.

According to Government statistics, 3 in 4 children aged 4 to 18 months have energy intakes that exceed their daily requirements. This increases with the introduction of solid food. Around 9 in 10 children aged 1.5 to 3 exceed recommended sugar intake.

Many of us are seeing this in nurseries. Children too fat to cross their legs or run about without getting out of breath. Children wearing clothes designed for older children. We are looking at children who will face the high risk of complicated and long-term illness such as diabetes type 2, heart disease, cancer and tooth decay. Did you know, just under a quarter of 5-year olds have tooth decay and almost 9 out of 10 hospital tooth extractions aged child 0 to 5 could have been avoided.

But what can we do?

There is no quick answer.

Look at Leeds, the city cites as success they have seen some improvement after a solid ten-year plan. The Government has a plan to reduce obesity by 50% by 2030 by focusing on making the food available to families healthier. In London, the Mayor has instigated London the Child Obesity Taskforce chaired by Paul Lindley. Everyone agrees the problem is complex and needs many different responses.

There has been a sugar tax levy instigated and work has been done on advertising sugary fizzy drinks.  Now, there is a plan to end the sale of energy drinks to children under 16 years.  There will be consultation as to whether restaurants, takeaways, and cafes have to provide mandatory calories labelling. Food and drink high in fat and sugar and salt may be banned before a 9pm watershed on TV and online adverts as well.

PHE are planning to challenge businesses to improve the nutritional content of commercially available baby foods and drink. PHE will publish guidelines for industry in early 2020 and the Gov wants to examine the marketing and labelling of baby food.

This is all very well and good but it doesn’t begin with the smallest children. What we need is a greater focus on a child obesity. As a member of the London taskforce my job is to find ways to get nurseries to help. We are doing this by encouraging London nurseries to complete the HEYL award as a means of raising awareness.

Providing training to Chefs

We also want to provide chefs with training to help them learn to create and choose menus that have been nutritionally checked. Our starting point was the specific accredited qualification designed to strengthen the important roles chefs play in educating staff and parents and influencing children to become the next generation of healthy and informed foodies.

However, to have a qualification was insufficient; I wanted it to be part of a chef academy so we could provide the qualification to every chef and young apprentices.  The academy will collect and collate data, undergo action research and evaluate the impact on children’s food consumption in nurseries across the country. If we can do this we may make a difference in the future.

For more about the chef academy listen to the webinar.

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