Establishing healthy lifestyle habits

14NOV13JH-878

Amanda Lockeridge, State Program Manager for Munch & Move at NSW Health, writes about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity for young children. 

One in four Australian children are overweight or obese. Causes of obesity in children include unhealthy food choices and lack of physical activity.

We know that good nutrition and physical activity for young children are vital to support healthy growth and development, to prevent illness and to provide the energy children need to power through their day. It is also important to lay the foundation for a healthy and active lifestyle from a young age.

As many children spend significant amounts of time in early childhood education and care services, these services provide an ideal setting to promote and foster appropriate healthy eating and physical activity habits early in life.

So how do we support children to learn about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity?

“We can make endless plans, but the true magic of teaching and learning comes from spontaneous, genuine and thoughtful interactions, provisions and relationships with the children,” said Jennifer Wood, Early Childhood Training and Resource Centre (ECTARC) Munch & Move Trainer.

“Promoting a play-based, child-centred environment encourages children to create, explore, practice and interact with materials, equipment, peers and adults.”

The National Quality Framework acknowledges the importance of children’s nutritional and physical health needs and that learning about healthy lifestyles should underpin services’ everyday routines and experiences.  This is supported through Quality Area 2 – Children’s health and safety, Standard 2.2 – Healthy eating and physical activity are embedded in the program for children, and the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care, Learning Outcome 3 -Children have a strong sense of wellbeing.

Ideas on implementing Quality Area 2

Element 2.2.1 – Healthy eating is promoted and food and drinks provided by the service are nutritious and appropriate for each child. 

  • Have a nutrition policy (for food provided by the service and/or the family in the lunchbox). Involve children, families and other agencies (such as Munch and Move) in developing the policy.
  • If the service provides food, display a weekly menu.
  • If families provide the food, make available some suggestions about healthy food options.
  • Food and drinks provided by the service should be consistent with the recommended guidelines for education and care services in Australia, e.g. the Get Up & Grow Guidelines and/or the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
  • Discuss healthy eating and fruit and vegetables with the children at mealtimes, offering a range of foods from different cultures.
  • Involve children in activities that focus on nutrition throughout the educational program. Some activities include setting up the lunch area as a restaurant, creating a vegetable garden, implementing cooking experiences, creating a healthy lunch book that includes recipes, sharing food photos and children’s conversations, using photos to encourage the drinking of water and promotion of fruit and vegetables.

Element 2.2.2 – Physical activity is promoted through planned and spontaneous experiences and is appropriate for each child.

  • Maintain a balance between spontaneous and planned physical activity, and passive and active experiences.
  • Encourage each child to participate in physical activities according to their interests, skills, abilities and their level of comfort.
  • Talk to children about how their bodies work and the importance of physical activity for health and wellbeing.
  • Encourage and participate in children’s physical activity.

There are other important links that can be made with:

  • Standard 3.2 – encourage and support children to participate in new or unfamiliar physical experiences and encourage children to use a range of equipment and resources to engage in energetic experiences.
  • Element 5.1.1 – provide children with relaxed, unhurried mealtimes during which educators sit and talk with children and role model healthy eating practices.
  • Element 6.2.2 – communicate with families about healthy eating, by providing information through newsletter snippets, fact sheets, photos, emails and face to face discussions.
  • Element 7.3.5 – develop a physical activity policy.

Lisa Booth, Director at Wallaroo Children’s Centre in NSW, recognises the importance of encouraging healthy eating and physical activity.

“We encourage and support children by providing nutritious meals and a water station that the children can access,” Lisa said.

“Physical activity and healthy eating are embedded in all areas of the curriculum. Educators understand the importance of promoting children’s health and well-being through both planned and spontaneous experiences.

“By using learning experiences such as music and movement, dramatic and creative play, outdoor activities and group games, the educators intentionally provide children with play-based experiences to support their learning.”

Resources

There are a number of resources that support educators and services to promote and encourage healthy eating and physical activity through relevant learning experiences, resources and interactions.

Driving Miss Daisy…Safely

This month Zora Marko, Road Safety Education Project Manager from Early Learning Association Australia, talks about their new Family Day Care Safe Transport Policy for family day care (FDC) educators and providers. Zora explains the importance of protecting children while travelling and provides helpful tips on best practice when transporting children. While this policy is targeted towards FDC educators and providers, Early Learning Association Australia also has a separate Safe Transport Policy for centre-based services.   

Car crashes are one of the leading causes of child death in Australia. Several thousand children aged birth to six years are hospitalised each year in Australia from injuries sustained in car crashes.

And while studies by road safety researchers show that almost all young children in Australia (98 per cent) use child restraints when they travel in cars, about one quarter of children are using the wrong type of restraint for their age, and about 70 per cent of restraints are incorrectly installed or used.

Wrongly installed or used child car seats have alarming consequences for children in a car crash. It is estimated 42 per cent of child deaths in car crashes and 55 per cent of injuries could be eliminated if all children aged one to six were travelling in an appropriate child car seat that was correctly installed, according to a recent study by Australian road safety researchers, published in the medical journal Pediatrics[1].

Early Learning Association Australia (ELAA) worked with VicRoads, Family Day Care Australia and other peak bodies in the family day care sector, as well as leading early childhood experts, to develop the Safe Transport Policy (Family Day Care).

It is based on the Best Practice Guidelines for the Safe Transportation of Children in Vehicles published by Neuroscience Research Australia, an independent, not-for-profit research institute.

The policy reflects best practice and goes beyond the minimum legal requirements outlined in Australian road laws.

For example, it is legal to use a safety harness, also known as an H harness, for children travelling in cars in Victoria, however the policy recommends against their use. Research shows that safety harnesses provide no safety advantages over lap-sash seat belts and may, in fact, increase the risk of injury.

While the law sets minimum standards for the safe transportation of children we still need to do the best we can to protect children and keep them safe while travelling, especially when we’ve got the scientific evidence and the knowledge about the sorts of best practices that should be implemented.

ELAA understands that we’re aiming high with these best practices and recognises that it may take some time for family day care educators to take on all aspects of the policy. ELAA will provide support with education and resources to help the sector adopt the policy.

Moonee Valley City Council, a local government authority in Melbourne’s inner west, is trialling the best practice policy among its 11 family day care services.

The council has held professional development sessions for educators and coordinators about the best practice policies.

Gurpreet Thiara, the council’s Children Services Development Officer, said educators’ main concerns included how to determine the age and appropriateness of a car seat, especially when parents provide their own car seat.

“Educators appreciated the information they received from the training session and they are now more confident, not only in transporting children in their care, but in answering questions from families about safe transportation,” Ms Thiara said.

Shane Lucas, ELAA’s Chief Executive Officer, said the best practice policy, developed in partnership with VicRoads, was a great example of how diverse organisations could work together to create practical improvements for educators, children and families in early learning services.

HANDY LINKS

https://elaa.org.au/services_resources/road_safety_education

www.childcarseats.com.au

[1] Wei Du, Caroline F. Finch, Andrew Hayen, Lynne Bilston, Julie Brown and Julie Hatfield (2010) ‘Pediatrics’, Relative benefits of population-level interventions targeting restraint-use in child care passengers, p304-312.