Research has proven that brain development is most rapid in the early years: 90% of a child’s brain growth is completed by age 5. The brain requires proper nutrition for development and comprises of both macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) for its structure and function. Severe nutritional deficiency can significantly impact brain development and may lead to mental health issues.
Optimum nutrition is essential for the growth and development of young children. However, many young children do not receive this. According to the Federal Government, one-in-five children in Australia are considered to be overweight or obese by the time they start school.
One survey has shown that early childhood educators lack nutritional knowledge, and are therefore not equipped to prevent disorders in youngsters. Research from QUT (Queensland University of Technology) found childcare workers’ knowledge was “poor” on childhood nutrition, with only 2 per cent of those surveyed answering all 11 questions on childhood nutrition correctly. Additionally, about 25 per cent of children in Queensland are overweight or obese
Numerous programs have been implemented across the country to try and tackle the problem. The findings prompted calls for better training and development programs to help educators improve their knowledge in early childhood nutrition. This service has reached about 3000 of the 28,000 educators in the state.
Additionally, in New South Wales, research initiatives are being funded at the University of Sydney. The University has recently launched the Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood Centre, which has received a grant of $2.5 million until 2020. The centre will bring together paediatricians, dietitians, health experts, economists and exercise physiologists to form a multidisciplinary approach to childhood obesity. The key challenge the centre hopes to address is helping busy parents and carers raise healthy children, by making informed choices about diet and nutrition.
Including children in the food decision making process from a young age is important for developing healthy food habits, suggests Bridget Kelly, senior lecturer in public health nutrition at the University of Wollongong. In this regard, some interesting initiatives that educators and parents could adopt is adding emoji labels (smiling or frowning faces many of us use when text messaging) on food items, encouraging children to make healthier food choices based on the happy/fun emojis labelled on such food.
The Global Nutrition Report 2016, published recently, highlights some key issues faced by economies today, and addresses how investment in early childhood development (ECD) will result in longer term economic benefits. The report suggests that for every dollar countries spend on early childhood development programmes, research shows that there is a $7 to $8 return of economic, health, and social progress. Making sure children eat well in their early years is perhaps one of the most important aspects to ensure early and continued success. The right amount of nutrition, sleep, and exposure to stimulating learning environments is proven to go a long way in enriching children’s lives.
Adequate nutrition, along with consistent loving, care and encouragement to learn during this phase, can help children do better at school, be healthier, have higher earnings and participate more in society, thus contributing to sustainable growth and development.
“The numbers on how many Australian children have severe obesity have never been crunched until now and our findings suggest we have underestimated the issue.”
Sarah Garnett, Associate Professor, Sydney’s Westmead Children’s Hospital
Tot Tok (www.tot-tok.com) is a data-driven web and mobile-based platform that focuses on improving learning outcomes in children in their early years. The tool empowers educators and parents to create a stimulating learning experience for children based on their unique needs and requirements. Powerful data-handling capabilities of the platform allow it to keep track of and document each child’s learning as well as well-being aspects, including nutrition information.
Tot Tok works across multiple devices and operating systems, and offers a simple dashboard to educators to keep track of, and log information in a simple and hassle free manner. Real time mobile updates and photos keep parents up to speed at all times, ensuring that they never miss out on their child’s most significant development milestones, and can actively contribute to the child’s development and progress.