Across the UK there is increasing concern over the rise in obesity and poor nutrition for young children and the impact that has on their future years. Health visitors through working with families can help address the issue of obesity and poor nutrition through early intervention and therefore help prevent the impacts in later life.
Nottingham City has a high level of childhood obesity with levels well above the national average. Additional factors such as 42% of children being from a BME background, 39% of children living in poverty and fewer than 50% of mothers breastfeeding all add to the problem.
For many infants and toddlers in Nottingham, their diets include a high intake of processed snack foods, low vegetable intake, poor weaning practices, lack of cooking skills for parents and iron deficiency in children, all raising concerns across all early years workers about the future health of these children.
Nottingham’s First Foods Education programme is an evidence-based programme that shows how health visitors can bring together partners in early years health provision and deliver a programme that builds confidence, knowledge and skills in parents promoting healthy nutrition and giving their children the best start in life.
The programme started with providing specialist training to both health visitors and other early years workers, empowering them to take on the task of supporting and educating parents.
With these professionals now confident in delivering and promoting key messages around nutrition and what contributes to obesity, they worked together to set up group for parents to attend, based in baby friendly venues thereby giving the opportunity for more parents to be involved.
These groups introduced good evidence-based weaning practices, food tasting and practical knowledge such as learning about how to manage choking to new parents - all with the aim of supporting parents to increase the number of babies being given homemade, nutritious food and demystifying and reducing fear about the transition to solid food.
In addition to the support groups, the programme developed a range of parent friendly, interactive nutrition resources and evidence based nutrition guidelines. The materials include: Sugar, salt and fat kits; Eatwell and multicultural foods kits; Oral health posters; Eatwell Early Years and ‘Cook and Move’ Facilitator Packs; Packed Lunch leaflet; and Healthy weight training.
Health visitors have all highlighted how effective the training and resources around weaning have been but the proof is in what parents involved have had to say:
‘I feel more confident about weaning and trying new foods.’
‘I enjoyed the class and it put several myths right.’
‘very informative I learnt new things that I didn’t know before’
‘Was nice to get some ideas from other parents.’
Author: Vicki Watson, Specialist Public Health Dietitian, The Nutrition Team, Nottingham City Care Partnership