Why 0-5 years is so important for healthy development

Cuddles with mum
We all want the best for our kids. 

Some parents read too much and go a little crazy with trying to do the right thing.  Others are perhaps a little more relaxed than ideal.  Life gives us lots of experience to work with, but we know that experience is not always “right” and the school of parenting is not one we get a free lesson with experts in. NO matter what though, all children have the right to be raised in a family with access to good health care, good nutrition, play and protection.

They have a right to be raised in a way that helps them reach their full potential.

The first 3 years of life, a child’s brain does most of its architectural development and the first 5 years are the most crucial for how a child will be able to develop learning skills and emotional abilities. Optimal nutrition is vital in supporting the rapid growth and development that occurs during this time. How can this initial “building the foundations” development go as best as it could have without the right balance of macro nutrients, vitamins and minerals?  Well sometimes it doesn’t.  Iron, iodine, zinc and calcium deficiencies are still common in Australian children.

Prenatally and the first years of a child's life is the ideal window for promoting the development of healthy eating behaviours. Experiences with food and food preferences begin in infancy and continue to develop as children transition to solid foods. During this time, children's food preferences are also influenced by availability, accessibility, and familiarity to foods as well as parental modeling. Thus, if children are to learn to prefer and select healthy foods, they need early, positive, repeated experiences with those foods. Persistence is key.

Proteins, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, iron, calcium, vitamin c and the list goes on…They build growing humans. They are helpful and we should, as parents and carer’s, know about them. For yourselves and for your kids. 

Our first world problems see us closely matching over -nutrition with under-nutrition. There are similar numbers of kids that are overweight/obese in the world as there are those that are starving.  Either way, it’s a form of malnourishment.  And it’s not good. Being a chubbier kid was once a sign of wealth and health. It was good to “have a little meat on you”.  Now, we know the health risks short and long term are not positive. 

Please don’t blame your kid for this.  They didn’t buy their own food.

Good nutrition and regular movement reduces cardiovascular risk, improves levels of cardiovascular risk factors such as overweight or obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, protects against some forms of cancer, and strengthens the musculoskeletal system (AIHW 2009b; NHMRC 2003).

Overweight and obese children are at a higher risk of being overweight and obese in adulthood. Some children may experience immediate health complications such as gallstones, hepatitis and sleep apnoea, or initiate the disease processes that lead to higher risks of morbidity and mortality later in life. Obesity can also affect social acceptance and self-esteem (Griffiths et al. 2006; Guo et al. 2002, Hayden-Wade et al. 2005; Must & Strauss 1999).

But even normal weight kids can be malnourished.  Limited diets, fussy eaters that have only 5 foods that they like, all white.  All we can do is try, but that is key, trying and persisting. It’s for their long term health and development.  We cannot give up. Giving up is neglecting your child and that is not fair to anyone.

Children and young people 0-15 years

The 2009-2010 Report on Child Health from the New South Wales Population Health Survey (NSW Health) provides a snapshot of the health and well-being of children aged 0-15 years. Information was collected from the parents and carers of more than 4,000 children.

The report made a number of important findings about the health of children and their eating habits.

  • Almost three quarters of children aged 2-15 years ate the recommended daily fruit intake.
  • Almost half of children aged 2-15 years ate the recommended daily amount of vegetables.
  • The majority of children ate ‘extra foods’ – such as fried potato products, potato crisps or salty snacks, confectionary and cakes/biscuits – at least once per week.
  • Few families ate together at the table every day and about a fifth of children ate in front of the television every day.
  • Most children aged 0-23 months had been breastfed at some time, but few were exclusively breastfed to six months as recommended. However, there have been significant increases in exclusive breastfeeding till 6 months from previous surveys
How can you maximize the nutritional health outcomes of your child?
  • Encourage breastfeeding when possible for the first 6 months of life
  • Eat a varied diet during pregnancy and lactation to create for your infant a “flavour bridge” to the modified adult diet
  • Practice responsive parenting by discriminating hunger from other distress cues and avoiding always using food to comfort your child
  • Provide positive, repeated exposure to novel foods (especially typically rejected foods, such as vegetables) to promote acceptance of and preference for those foods
  • Offer developmentally appropriate and healthy foods to your child during the transition to solids
  • Serve portion sizes that are developmentally appropriate for your child's age and nutrient needs
  • Choose when and what your child should eat, but let your child decide how much to eat
  • Trust a child of normal weight status to self-regulate his own intake

o   Kids often graze. They don’t have the emotional eating cues we have as adults.  Let them work it out. 

  • Make a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods available and accessible to your child rather than energy-dense, nutrient poor foods.

o   Expose your child to as many healthy foods as possible. Colour and variety are key.

  • Use your own behaviours and attitudes to model healthy dietary patterns

o   You are what you eat. If it’s good for you, it’s good for them. Some parents like to have “adult foods”, which is hardly good role modelling.  Why should you get more “treats” than them?

  • Create a positive feeding environment by initiating regular family meals and eating together.

o   Family time is so important and eating together at least 4 nights a week is a good routine to have.

If you would like to have more on this subject, please let us know.  The next blog will be on parental food modelling...