For Starters

The principle of ‘early intervention’ – that it is more effective to intervene to prevent a social problem, than to react once a problem becomes manifest – is now so widely accepted that it is almost a policy cliché. A series of independent reviews commissioned by the UK Government, including those by Frank Field MP, Graham Allen MP and Dame Clare Tickell, have all highlighted the importance of the pre-school years as a crucial developmental phase. However, despite this welcome emphasis on the early years, there is still too little focus on the role of early nutrition. Where there have been measures to improve early nutrition, these have often missed parents’ vital role in feeding their young children.

This report reveals the challenges that parents experience in feeding their young children, with half of parents feeling confused about portion sizes and one-fifth of parents feeling unconfident about preparing food for babies or toddlers. It also found that many parents are concerned about a lack of information on subjects such as weaning and toddler nutrition, or have received confusing or conflicting advice. Contrary to assumptions that nutrition might be considered a ‘common sense’ issue by parents, this report finds that they would welcome better access to clear and consistent advice on nutrition for young children.

The report demonstrates the importance of nutrition to children’s subsequent health and development and so advocates a central role for early childhood nutrition in early years and public health policy. It recommends a joined-up policy approach that makes use of the substantial infrastructure of nurseries, children’s centres and health services to provide consistent and reliable advice to parents on nutrition. The report also finds that food packaging, retailers and online parenting clubs and forums are all important influences on feeding decisions. Therefore, the government must work together with these groups to support parents to make healthier food choices for their babies and toddlers.