Laying the foundations for future health and wellbeing
The foundations for future health and wellbeing are laid in the crucial early years. Diet, obesity, physical activity, communication, cognitive development and oral health are all influenced by the first few years of life.
Obesity has its roots in early childhood. Overweight infants are five times more likely to be obese in later childhood, in adolescence and in adulthood. The statistics are shocking. Recent data from The Health Survey for England (2016) indicates that around 10% of children aged 2-4 years are already obese. In addition:
nearly 1 in 4 children are overweight or obese when they start school aged 4-5 years
only 1 in 20 children who start school obese will return to a healthy weight by the age of 11 (see graphic below)
conversely, children who are a healthy weight at age 5, are highly likely to remain so at age 11 and beyond
studies show that obesity in teenagers overwhelmingly tracks into adulthood
Predicted BMI status at 11 yrs based on BMI status at 5 yrs
Graphic adapted from Changes in weight status of children between the first and final years of primary school. Public Health England 2017
Obese children are at greater risk of serious long term health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers. Type 2 diabetes – typically an adult disease – is increasingly being diagnosed among children in the UK, some as young as seven. Early signs of fatty liver disease and arteriosclerosis are now being seen in children.
The emotional consequences of obesity in childhood can be real and immediate. Obese children may experience teasing, bullying, discrimination, low self-esteem and anxiety. Recent findings from the Millennium Cohort Study suggest that childhood obesity may be associated with emotional and behavioural problems from a very young age.
Physical activity can have a significant impact on health and wellbeing both in childhood and into adulthood. Children who are encouraged to be active at an early age have improved cardio-metabolic health (reduced risk of cardiovascular disease including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity). Active children are also able to sleep better, are more able to concentrate, learn and have improved academic achievement, have greater self-esteem, confidence and social skills.
A child's diet during the early years significantly influences their growth and development and can also impact on their future health as adults. Early nutrition is linked to the incidence of many common childhood conditions such as diarrhoea, dental caries and iron and vitamin D deficiencies. It may also influence the risk in adult life of conditions such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
The earliest experiences, starting in the womb, shape a baby’s brain development. The brain is able to absorb information and adapt to its surroundings. Environmental influences – including relationships, nutrition, stress and poverty – shape a child’s brain affecting their later health and wellbeing, as well as their social and intellectual development. Positive early experience is therefore vital to ensure children are ready to learn, ready for school and have good life chances.
Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease and yet is almost entirely preventable. The burden of tooth decay on children is considerable – causing pain and distress and negatively affecting sleep and self-confidence. Teeth are most vulnerable to decay during the first 2-4 years after eruption; this is a critical period when parents and carers can make a real difference to children’s oral health.
Speech and language
Language development helps children to develop a range of cognitive skills that are crucial for their development, including working memory and reading skills. This can help prepare children so that they are ready to learn at 2 and ready for school at 5. Parents have a huge influence on their child’s early learning, for example, talking and reading to a baby can help stimulate language skills right from birth.
Breastfeeding has significant benefits for both the mother and child. Feeding in the first 6 months of life has a long term impact on the health and wellbeing of the child. Children who are breastfed have reduced risk of diarrhoea and vomiting, respiratory, ear and urinary tract infections, asthma and eczema. Breastfed babies are also at reduced risk of other conditions and long term illnesses such as sudden infant death syndrome, leukaemia, diabetes, obesity, coeliac disease and cardiovascular disease.
For the mother, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
HENRY adopts a unique and holistic approach to working with families
Our services are evidence-based, effective, flexible, responsive and innovative
Investing in early years services improves outcomes for babies and children