CHILDHOOD OBESITY STRATEGY IGNORES BABIES/TODDLERS

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While I applaud the Government's efforts to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic, politicians have completely ignored one key group...babies and toddlers.

The childhood obesity strategy focuses predominantly on school-aged children, disregarding the fact that a quarter of four to five years olds are already significantly overweight or obese before even stepping into the classroom - and they didn't get that way overnight.

The figures paint a bleak picture.

Government statistics from the Health & Social Care Information Centre reveal that 236 children under the age of four were admitted to hospital with obesity-related problems or concerns over their weight between 2012 and 2015. And 13 of these were under 12 months old.

We know that dietary preferences and habits are established during pregnancy and the first two years of life.

Maternal obesity and excessive weight gain during pregnancy have been linked to increasing the risk of child obesity two or three-fold.

Breastfeeding is not only critical to healthy weight gain, but food preferences begin in the womb when babies are exposed to whatever their mother eats through the amniotic fluid.

Figures suggest that for each month a baby is breastfed the risk of obesity falls by four percent.

Too early an introduction to solids can also increase the risk of obesity - before the fourth month it is linked to a six-fold increase in that baby becoming obese by the time he or she is three years old.

What's more, UK toddlers are consuming more calories and protein than recommended, potentially putting them at risk of obesity in later life, according to University College London research.

The study also revealed children’s diets are lacking in fibre, vitamin D and iron and contain too much sodium, which could lead to serious future health problems.

Toddler portion size is an issue, with nutritionists warning more pre-school children are at risk of obesity than ever before.

A survey of 1,000 British parents by the Infant and Toddler Forum found 79 percent routinely give their children larger meal portions than recommended by scientists.

Yet 73 percent of these parents worried their children were not eating enough and only 25 percent were concerned about their children becoming obese in the future.

The forum launched an illustrated guide to portion sizes as part of its #rethinktoddlerportionsizes campaign.

Not only are obese children more likely to be bullied and have low self- esteem, they are also statistically more likely to become obese adults, with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

It's a worrying trend, but there is no single solution to reverse the rising tide of child obesity.

While Early Years practitioners can play their part by helping to inform both the children in their care and parents about healthy eating, the Government urgently needs to step up and invest and educate.