How Your Creche Can (And Should) Help Prevent Childhood Obesity

Obesity (defined as having a body mass index of 25 or higher) is more than a problem in the developing world, it’s an epidemic responsible for a vast range of health problems including sleep apnoea, hypertension, osteoarthritis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver and gallbladder disease, stroke and even death.

And scientists are increasingly finding that good nutrition and healthy eating for kids is vital even at a very young age. Although, according to a 2010 New York Times article ‘most prevention programs have shied away from intervening at very young ages,’ a report released last June by America’s Institute of Medicine (IOM)specifically focused children aged 0-5 years. In the Times, Dr Leann L Birch, director of Penn State’s Center for Childhood Obesity Research said that, ‘everybody’s been pointing to this early period and saying that it looks like something is going on, and it has long-lasting effects.’

The IOM report stated that ‘because early obesity can track into adulthood, efforts to prevent obesity should begin long before a child enters school.’ Clearly, health eating for children – good, wholesome nutrition – should be taken into account from a very early age, but nutrition isn’t the whole story.

The report makes a range of specific recommendations that paediatricians, parents and child care providers should follow, including ensuring children get appropriate levels of sleep, limiting exposure to marketing campaigns (particularly on television) hyping unhealthy sweets, drinks and snacks, and monitoring children’s weight and growth.

But what can your local crèche do to help?

The crèche, where children spend a large part of the day and take many meals every week, is an ideal place to begin nurturing healthy eating behaviours and provide wholesome food. Good nutrition, linked with a positive mind-set and social context is the key to encouraging healthy eating for kids.

Here are some things your crèche should be doing to encourage healthy eating and a healthy attitude toward eating:

1. Provide proper nutrition

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is important that the children’s diet be rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, using fresh ingredients as much as possible.

2. Educate the palate

Providing small portions of familiar (healthy) favourites and gradually mixing in new, unfamiliar foods educates the palate and broadens the range of nutritious foods deemed ‘tasty’ by the child.

3. Develop positive associations with healthful food

Mealtimes should be fun – not because the food itself panders to cravings for sugar and salt, but because each meal creates a positive atmosphere for socialisation, including polite chit-chat and good table manners.

4. Delay and reduce exposure to unhealthy temptations

It’s impossible to shield our children from the barrage of advertising, peer pressure, etc that make the least healthy foods seem the most appealing. But by refraining from using sweets or salty snacks as a reward, limiting and monitoring screen time, and keeping unhealthy treats out of sight during meals, the crèche can substantially diminish their ability to interfere with healthy eating for children.

Visit your crèche, preferably during lunch, and ask yourself if they’re doing all they can to encourage healthy eating for your kids.