New research from NatCen Social Research, highlights that healthy behaviours including eating more fruit and vegetables in adults and enjoying physical activity in seven year olds are factors associated with higher wellbeing.
The Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF) are delighted that this new research supports their commitment to taking a life course approach to nutrition and health, highlighting the early years (pregnancy to preschool) as a key time to teach healthy lifestyles. Establishing positive health behaviours at an early age may lead to healthier outcomes in later life, such as a normal BMI and fewer chronic health conditions, which in turn contribute to higher wellbeing at that life stage.
The study, funded by the Department of Health, revealed that seven year old children who said that they like PE ‘a lot’ had much higher odds of happiness than children who said that they like it ‘a little’ or ‘not at all’. Children who watch some television – but who watch a very limited amount (less than one hour per week day) – were found to worry the least.
Enjoyment of PE lessons was positively associated with child wellbeing however the relationship between health behaviours and children’s subjective wellbeing is likely to be more complex and longer term. It was found that being happier and lacking worry does not mean never having sweets, snacks and television. In fact, there was some indication in the results that higher wellbeing was more likely when these were enjoyed in moderation. For example, wellbeing was lower among children who never watched television and among those who watched it the most, and higher among those who watched television, but for less than an hour a day.
Judy More, paediatric dietitian and member of the Infant & Toddler Forum comments: “The research shows that in general young children who enjoy time with their parents, like physical activity, and eat in family meals, are happier and worry less. A few simple tips for parents are therefore: eating together as a family and making mealtimes relaxed, happy occasions; limiting TV and other screen time like computers to just 1 hour a day; keeping their toddlers active for at least 3 hours every day and helping them to develop their physical activity skills so that they are competent and can keep up with their peer group when they get to school. All activity counts towards the three hours for toddlers including active play and games inside or outside, walking, running and dancing.”
For practical advice on developing a positive approach to health, growth and development in the early years visit the ITF’s Ten Steps for Healthy Toddlers and the Physical Activity and Active Play Factsheet
NatCen Social Research. Predicting Wellbeing. 2014. Available at: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/media/205352/predictors-of-wellbeing.pdf