How to nurture children into a healthy future.
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Children spend a lot of time in early childhood education and care services. These programs play a critical role in promoting early healthy eating habits. Over the years childhood obesity has become a serious issue in most western countries. Let’s take a look at the figures for Australia.
1. 1 in 4 children in Australia are overweight
According to Government figures, the number of overweight children in Australia has increased in recent years. Data from the ABS National Health Survey series indicate that obesity in children increased to 26% in 2017–18.
By 2025, the projected figures are a cause for worry – nearly one-third of Australian children are going to be obese.National survey for The Early Years Insights 2020
These surveys highlight the importance of a balanced diet in reducing obesity.
2. Early taste experiences can influence later food choices
Food preferences are formed in infancy and majorly contribute to kids health. They continue into childhood and beyond, reinforcing foundations for a healthy adult lifestyle from habits that are built as healthy kids. Eating behaviours are influenced by a number of factors, genetics, gender, community among others but the foods children are exposed to by their family in their early stages of development is by far the most influential factor. Offering complementary foods without preservatives, added sugars or salt is necessary for long-term health and a balanced kids diet.
3. Overweight children = Overweight adults
Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults. They are also more prone to have chronic health problems such as type II diabetes, breathing difficulties, bone fractures and cardiovascular disease at relatively younger ages. Additionally, overweight children are often subjected to body shaming and bullying which can have an impact on their self-confidence and esteem.
4. Only 1 in 16 children eat their greens
There is a substantial correlation between a child’s immune system and kids nutrition. Forget the recommended daily servings, it is common to come across young children finding it hard to eat even one serving of vegetables. Vegetables provide a natural way to boost dietary fibres, nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants that help the body stay healthy in life. They also help protect against chronic diseases and work to strengthen the immune system. Higher vegetable intake is extremely beneficial for kids health – both mental and physical.
What can the early childhood sector do to help prevent childhood obesity?
The most important strategies to reduce the prevalence of obesity are by providing healthy food for kids, meals and snacks, and encouraging daily physical activity. Nutrition education also helps young children develop an awareness of good nutrition and healthy eating habits for a lifetime. The early childhood caregivers should:
- Focus on a sugar-free diet.
- Ensure the diet plan comes with daily recommended vegetable servings.
- Establish daily meal and snack times.
- Plan on eating together as much as possible.
- Include a wide variety of healthy foods.
- Plan sensible portions.
Childhood obesity is a serious problem in Australia. More should be done in the early childhood sector to support healthy choices around kids nutrition, kids health and physical activity to ensure that all children have the best possible start in life and every opportunity for the future.
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