THE BLOG

Why the Government Should Make Nurseries Its Allies in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity

10/04/2015 14:21 BST | Updated 09/06/2015 10:59 BST

One in ten children are obese when they start school at the age of four, say latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The issue is constantly in the news. And the spotlight is often on schools and how they plan to combat this.

But as a society, are we looking in the wrong place for results?

Is it simply too late for overweight children by the time they start school?

Work on healthy eating and active lifestyle needs to start with babies and toddlers.

It's obvious. The Government needs to come to us, the nursery sector.

There's a great opportunity here and now is the time.

More and more under 5s are attending nurseries - including greater numbers of two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds who are benefiting from funded places.

The best nurseries already do an amazing job without any special Government support in this area.

Nurseries are nothing short of ambassadors for good nutrition. Kale and cous-cous or beetroot and bean stew? Yes please, say toddlers.

At Hallowe'en and Christmas parties, special treats often take the form of luscious strawberry and banana skewers, not chocolate and sweeties.

Super-healthy foods at the most forward-thinking childcare settings are completely normalised.

When the entries roll in for NDNA's healthy eating award each year, we are delighted to learn about the interesting foods our settings are serving and the inventive ways they get the children excited in their menus.

Nursery staff talk to the children about the meals they are preparing and involve them. The children sow the seeds, water the plants and pick the produce. They bring in fresh courgettes from the garden and chop them up for lunch.

They might visit a farm, watch the chef gutting a fish or help to put beef through a mincer. Their likes and dislikes are respected, they make choices and decisions.

Our members also put a huge amount of energy into active lifestyles.

And because they're full of slow-burning energy afforded by whole grains, vitamin-rich veg and perfectly-prepared pulses, the children are ready and eager.

They don't just play in the yard. Children wrap-up warm in all weathers and head out to explore moorland and forests, allotments and beaches, feeling the wind in their hair and the crunchy snow under their wellies.

Staff who really understand children's active learning needs don't just supervise, they join right in.

A few years later, this wholesome lifestyle is innate, shared by their peers - and hopefully at home with their parents too, thanks in part to nurseries' outreach roles.

Bad habits like too much sugary and fatty food and too much time spent in front of a screen are only hard to break if they are allowed to develop in the first place.

NDNA today calls for the Government to turn the spotlight on nurseries as well as schools, in its fight against childhood obesity.

This is a snapshot into what we do every day.

Imagine how much more we could achieve with the full weight of the Government behind us.

Childcare providers will be discussing childhood obesity as well as many other key sector issues at the NDNA Conference on 11 and 12 June at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry