Is the Early Years sector doing enough to tackle childhood obesity?

 

Is the Early Years sector doing enough when it comes to helping young children maintain a healthy weight and tackle childhood obesity? Tell us what YOU think.

Did you realise when you entered the world of Early Years that you would not just be pondering child development and pedagogy but also find yourself thinking long and hard about big structural issues such as poverty and child obesity – the very subject of our annual (and 15th) Margaret Horn Debate.

But, what can we do to help tackle child obesity I hear you sigh?  Us nursery people!  Us who are often patronised by those who should know better and refer to us as “nice but dim”! I know, it grieves me too – so don’t hit the twitter vomit button, let’s step up as systemic change makers and let your voice be heard.

There is all this talk about children’s wellbeing and calls for support and interventions. Yet, children’s wellbeing starts with good nutritious food. So, why are we allowing the obesity rates to spiral out of control?

According to Public Health England’s Patterns and Trends in Child Obesity (February 2021), more than 1 in 5 children in Reception (aged 4-5 years) is overweight or obese (boys 23.3%, girls 22.7%, all children 23.0%). Furthermore, child obesity prevalence is strongly correlated with socioeconomic status and is highest among children living in the most deprived local authorities.

To help with the stepped changes so urgently needed and after seeing how Early Years chefs could play their part in providing the best, nutritious food for our children, we launched the inaugural Early Years Chef Academy and professional qualification in 2019. This was the first of its kind for the sector to transform how we provide nutritionally sound meals across all nurseries and put good healthy food high on the menus.

Just for clarity, I talk about chefs because that is the preferred title of the LEYF chefs but others may prefer to be called cooks or catering staff. See the term chef as the inclusive #EYChef.

In my view, one of the biggest problems is a lack of knowledge and imagination among chefs about how to cook for children in group settings. The best way to embed a healthy food culture for children is to train those who cook. Children’s nutritional needs are quite different to adults and it’s imperative that we get this right. Every parent wants to know that their child is getting tasty, healthy and nutritious food and they need reassurance that the standards are of the highest quality.

But what’s the best approach to take? WHO needs to do what and WHAT needs to be done? Please join on us on 18 November (6.30pm-8pm) to share your views about what the Early Years sector can do (as food providers) to help tackle this spiralling health crisis and address where the priority lies?

Register online here.