The majority of GB parents with a child aged 1 to 4 (82%) expect their childcare provider to seek expert advice on the latest nutritional guidance for young children. Further research found that 79% of childcare providers admit they are not receiving external nutrition advice, suggesting more must be done to address the gap.
In the recent YouGov survey, parents and carers of children aged one to four rated these nutritional capabilities as more important than various other aspects of nursery life, such as daily handovers 89%), good reports/learning journals given to parents (86%) and good nursery productions and shows (42%).
They also felt they were more important than nursery facilities such as good reception areas (49%), good facilities for parents e.g. availability of buggy parking (64%) and even proximity to places (e.g. home or work) (86%). The survey showed little variation in the expectations of families of different social grades when it comes to the food being provided to their children – all parents had high expectations.
According to the National Child Measurement Programme, almost a quarter (23.4%) of children starting reception are not a healthy weight, being either overweight, obese, severely obese, or underweight. Other health concerns that can be related to diet include tooth decay, an entirely preventable concern that impacts 31 to 41% of five-year olds.
In 2015, the Royal Society for Public Health recommended that nursery practitioners should have health-based conversations with parents, however the RSPH report Tackling the UK’s Childhood Obesity Epidemic noted that practitioners may lack confidence when it comes to raising sensitive issues regarding lifestyles in their work with young families.
Commenting on the survey results, Annie Denny, Nutrition Development Manager at the Early Years Nutrition Partnership said, “We’re impressed to see that parents and carers have high expectations about nutrition in nurseries and pre-schools as we believe childcare providers have a responsibility to get nutrition right in the early years. Our message is that by upskilling practitioners we can help them engage with parents on an exciting nutrition journey, that results in healthier and affordable meals in the setting, and likely inspiration and help for home too.”
According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health there has been minimal overall improvement in the proportion of children at a healthy weight in the past decade.
Obese infants and children are likely to continue being obese during adulthood and are more likely to develop a variety of health problems as adults, including cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance (often an early sign of impending diabetes), musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints), some cancers (endometrial, breast and colon), and disability.
Stacey Bailer, Regional Quality Manager at Fennies, a nursery chain operating across South West London, Surrey and Sussex, that is working with the Early Years Nutrition Partnership said, “We want our practitioners to be able to support parents further in their understanding of the importance of a nutritionally balanced diet and direct them to the expert evidence led advice we will receive as a result of working with EYNP.
“We hope other more nursery chains will join the EYNP movement as it is so beneficial for continuing professional development and most importantly to enhance outcomes for children. As childcare providers we believe we have a key role to play in introducing children to a wide variety of foods and establishing a pattern of regular meals and healthy snacks. Focusing on nutrition supports us in delivering the EYFS in a variety of ways as it helps children’s personal development and welfare.”
The survey was carried out on behalf of the Early Years Nutrition Partnership, an independent social enterprise created in partnership with the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the British Nutrition Foundation and Danone Early Life Nutrition. The EYN Partnership has a unique network of registered nutrition professionals (registered nutritionists and dietitians) who deliver nutrition support to nurseries and pre-schools that is tailored towards the demographic of each particular setting and community in which it operates.