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The Child Obesity Catastrophe

It is my absolute delight to have June O’Sullivan MBE, the chief executive officer of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), as my guest host. June is an inspiring speaker, author and regular commentator on Early Years, social business and child poverty. June has been instrumental in achieving a major strategic and cultural shift for the award-winning LEYF, resulting in increased profile and profitability over the past eight years. June continues to advise the government in order to better implement their vision for Early Years.

June writes:

“Did you know that one in five children under five years is obese? While obesity is highest among older children, already 11% of toddlers are obese and it’s even higher among children living in poverty. Obese children have a 40-70% chance of becoming obese adults. Diet-related ill health costs the NHS £5.8bn every year with childhood obesity-related illnesses, such as asthma, in England costing £51m per year. Just think how many places for small children that could fund! Then jump forward five years and imagine what an increasing unhealthy population will mean for those working in nurseries and schools.

So how can we help? This is a perfect case for early intervention. We must begin in the Early Years and many of us have already been working to improve nursery food and nutrition and physical health of children. Recent reports by WHO, Children’s Food Trust, Pre-school Learning Alliance, Demos and Infant Toddler Forum support our efforts.

The LEYF approach to improving healthy eaters has developed over the past five years, resulting in us having seasonal, locally sourced food, oily fish twice a week, organic full fat milk and children involved in planning the menus. We also have chefs leading cooking activities and supporting parents to choose healthy options for their children – our realisation about the importance of the role of nursery chefs has also supported Ofsted research. This has found that the best food was provided in schools with experienced, well qualified and appropriately trained cooks. With this in mind, the findings led to the development of the first Level 2 Diploma in Food Production and Cooking for Chefs in the Early Years, now accredited by Cache.

So if you want to help your chefs provide the best food and nutritional services for children and families in your settings and beyond, sign them up to become nursery food pioneers. http://www.cache.org.uk/Qualifications/CYP/CYPL2/Pages/CACHE-Level-2-Diploma-in-Food-Production-and-Cooking-in-Early-Years-%28QCF%29.aspx

But it’s not just about food. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) found that the most successful interventions are those that target both physical activity and diet together and involve carers, siblings or peers with similar weight issues.  So the efforts of Early Years colleagues, such as Lala Manners (who has developed a physical health programme for staff) and Linda Maurice (at the Old School House Nursery and who has developed the Physical and Nutrition Co-ordinator (PANco) role) remain crucial if we are to beat obesity.

Physical well-being remains a prime subject in the EYFS and addressing it in this two-pronged way seems sensible; it will benefit the well-being of both our staff and children.  What’s good for the children tends to be good for the staff and so a healthier and fitter staff team is of benefit to everyone.

This year, the LEYF annual lecture, where we bring Early Years and social enterprises together, is asking the question:

“Can Social Enterprises Help Reduce the Childhood Obesity Catastrophe?”
Come and join the conversation and let’s learn together.


It’s also an honour to have June and Linda as co-hosts, of the popular weekly international Twitter chat #EYTalking on Tuesday 11th November 2014.

Follow June and Linda on Twitter:



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Twitter: @IamLauraHenry

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  • Anna Wright

    Where can we find out more about the cooks qualification?

  • Helen Battelley

    I couldn’t agree more on your blog ‘Childhood Obesity’ as an EYFS Dance and Movement consultant I demonstrate how physical activity can be a part of EVERY area of learning. CHILDREN MUST MOVE MORE! In my 16 years of experience, I have seen an increase in obesity in EY Children – we cannot look for blame only to educate. Climb, Run, Jump, Roll, Play ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’, Read stories then role play the stories, Paint with your feet, and dance…..#letsgetmoving

    • Laura Henry

      Thanks for your comments. Hope you can join the twitter chat tomorrow night. 🙂

      • june

        thank you for the comments. we need to consider food and fitness together and we also need to wake up that this is not an issue for the future but a catastrophe staring us right in the face with huge implications. Its our duty as Early Years leads to really get it out there. Come to the lecture and share your views. Bring some supporters.

  • Simona McKenzie

    We need children to …move more…walk not being driven to school…enjoy all the physical activities we ‘may’ be limiting due to fear of accidents and Ofsted landing on our doorstep.
    We need playgrounds that encourage exploration, learning and safe risk taking by the children

    We need to get children to enjoy their food more…at school as at home with their parents, eating is not a chore but a wonderful social experience…share family meals.
    We need to support parents to enjoy cooking simple and nutritious meals, share recipes and ..be adventurous in their cooking and bin the ready meals that cause obesity
    We need the govt to regulate the food industry to reduce salt and sugar in processed food.
    Health visitors could support parents in healthy choices too.

    Above all we need schools to give children their full play time and not organize extra activities during playtime so children miss out on that vital physical activity in the middle of the day.

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