The policy governments failed to deliver
TOO LATE TO WAIT
New Zealand’s largest early childhood provider writes the policy governments failed to deliver.
BestStart Education and Care
The country’s biggest early childhood provider says its not prepared to wait any longer for official action to address the overwhelming issues around obesity among our preschoolers.
BestStart Deputy CEO Fiona Hughes, whose organisation operates more than two hundred and seventy centres throughout the country, says the evidence is overwhelming that what happens during those early childhood years sets the pattern the rest of the children’s lives.
That means good nutrition and activity policies are essential, but BestStart is disappointed these have been ignored by successive governments. In light of this, they are going to take the initiative themselves.
Fiona Hughes says “This is too important to be left waiting on some sort of official policy, the evidence has been around for years and all the research says ignoring the problem is consigning our children to a disadvantaged future.”
“Given 23% of NZ children are overweight, a further 11% are obese, that children are less likely to be physically active if attending centres, and that 95% of NZ children attend early childhood centres, we can’t afford to wait for meaningful change.”
Compounding the problem are reports from teachers concerned with the level of training they received around nutrition and activity.
In 2016 BestStart funded research with Massey, Waikato University and Jumping Beans gym (PEECh, attached) into physical activity and nutritional knowledge in early childhood centres. The research found a lack of confidence, skills and knowledge in teachers to teach and integrate physical activity into the early childhood curriculum. There are concerns that initial teacher education often contains a very limited level of training. Some teachers report just a couple of hours to a day spent on nutritional or physical subjects throughout their entire teacher training.
Taking the initiative in the early childhood centres makes sense given other international research. What it shows says Hughes is that “children in centres are less likely to be as active as they would be at home and children are more likely to be overweight. Exacerbating this issue is that while there are guidelines for physical activity in early childhood centres, we understand these are discretionary.
Our research highlighted the positive impact that professional learning and development could have on teachers’ knowledge, skills and confidence in these areas.”
Because of the research, BestStart is working alongside Jumping Beans and the Heart Foundation to introduce the Hauora Wellbeing Initiative to all 270 of BestStart’s centres nationally. Through the review of policies, practice guidelines and professional development, this initiative will target an increase in physical activity and nutritional health for all children. The goal is for every BestStart centre to achieve a silver or gold level of the Heart Foundation’s Healthy Heart Award.
“By doing this, our hope is that BestStart will contribute to setting healthy eating and physical activity habits that will last a lifetime, changing the trajectory of health outcomes in our children’s adult lives,” says Hughes.