Small steps today for healthy feeding, growth and development tomorrow

Experts call for a back to basics approach to early years nutrition to help all families take small steps towards life-long health

As evidence continues to mount, supporting the need to embed early childhood nutrition in all aspects of family, child and health policy, the Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF) is going back to basics in 2013 to deliver clear, consistent, messages on healthy eating. Its aim is to help families instil healthier attitudes in their children for lifelong health, one small step at a time; through a practical-based programme of every-day tips on which foods to offer and which behaviours to encourage as early on as possible.

The stark reality of health in Britain today could not be more compelling, with a whole generation at risk of dying prematurely due to diet related ill-health. Obesity is a major public health issue for all but with over 90 per cent of the excess weight in 9 year old girls, and over 70 per cent in 9 year old boys, gained before the child ever gets to school age, it’s clear public health education should focus on the early years if we are to make a difference. In addition, the number of children developing diabetes has rocketed in recent years, making it the fastest growing childhood disease.

The EarlyBird Diabetes Study1 found that the seeds of diabetes are sown very early in life and that left unchecked, one in five children born today will develop diabetes.

It’s not just about overweight and obesity. Dental decay is also a major concern; over 30 per cent of children in the UK will have dental decay by the time they are five years old. In addition, vitamin D deficiency is on the increase with the resurgence of rickets in the toddler age group. Yet, the Demos For Starters report highlighted that nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of mothers reported they had never been advised to give a vitamin supplement to their baby or toddler, despite it being an official government recommendation that babies aged six months plus should have vitamin drops with vitamins A, C and D.

Dr Atul Singhal, Professor of Paediatric Nutrition at the UCL Institute of Child Health and Chair of the ITF, said: “We are clearly in a position of needing to balance the risks of excess and the risks of deficiency. We know what happens to children in their earliest years is key to health outcomes in adult life. We also know that making lifestyle changes can be a challenge. Unhealthy behaviours develop over the course of time, so replacing unhealthy behaviours with healthy ones requires time. The Forum is encouraging a step wise approach to nutrition this year placing the emphasis on simple, practical advice so that families can take small steps towards better health that are impossible not to achieve.”

Judy More, paediatric dietitian and ITF member explained, “Many parents are anxious and confused about healthy eating for toddlers we want to encourage all families to take that first step. Providing practical advice, guidance and education is paramount in helping families get on the right track. Our programme this year will cover key topics such as healthy meal, snack and drink options, active play and developmental milestones for food and feeding. The Forum’s annual Study Day will offer health and childcare professionals the opportunity to explore how they can help and motivate families to make changes.”

Finally, the ITF are committed to encouraging wider adoption of its Ten Steps for Healthy Toddlers. Through working with key partners and stakeholders in the early years arena, the initial results from the national rollout programme are encouraging. The Ten Steps initiative was highlighted as best practice guidance in the Demos For Starters report is a ‘promising tool to support early years practitioners to work with young children and their parents to support healthy eating’.

Take that first step and visit the ITF website to access our latest ‘back to basics’ advice on Meals, snacks and drinks

If you have press office enquiries, please contact Claire Johnson, on 020 8971 6419

Notes to editors

The 2013 Infant & Toddler Forum Study Day is taking place on the 31st October at The Royal Society of Medicine, London.

New Factsheet and Guidance & Tips, Meal’s, Snacks and Drinks, provides a practical overview of what foods and drinks to offer and how to combine foods from the five food groups to create nutritious meals.

The Infant & Toddler Forum brings together an independent, multi-disciplinary team of experts and practitioners from paediatrics, neonatology, health visiting, dietetics, and child psychology, to share new ideas and to debate the latest thinking in infant and toddler nutrition. Best practice guidance on food and feeding for all young families is paramount for children’s health and wellbeing now and in the future For more than seven years the Forum and its partners have strived to raise awareness and promote positive change in the field of toddler nutrition and feeding behaviour, with all guidance being in alignment with DoH increased emphasis on early years intervention.

The Infant & Toddler Forum is supported by an educational grant from Danone Baby Nutrition. All resources produced by the Forum represent the independent views of the Forum with whom copyright rests.

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Further Reading

  • By Melanie Pilcher and Dr. Gillian Harris Establishing bedtime routines for toddlers and young children
  • By Dr. Gillian Harris, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Birmingham and ITF member Most parents will struggle at some point to get their toddlers to eat certain foods. Is toddler food refusal a sign of an eating disorder. or is it merely a phase? In the run up to Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Gill Harris provides practical advice to help parents tackle fussy eating in toddlers.  
  • By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.