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Making healthy choices the easy choices


I have regularly written about my concerns that, despite the very best efforts of professionals, key health messages do not seem to be being heard. And I’ve occasionally asked on the IJBPE FaceBook page for suggestions as to how we might make information on healthy eating, breastfeeding and other such issues more impactful.

These public health messages are essential if we are to improve outcomes for families in the UK (and elsewhere). Given what epigenetics is telling us about the impact on babies’ health of the life-course not just of their parents, but of their grandparents as well, we have to start thinking at least two generations ahead if we want to make a real difference to the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of our children.

At the annual meeting in 2014 of the American Public Health Association, 100 participants were asked to describe a ‘culture of health’ in six words or fewer. The response which struck me most was given by a young woman who said:

“Making healthy choices the easy choices”.

I think this is so right. But making healthy choices the easy ones requires a holistic approach to our work in the Very Early Years. While doing some research into the history of antenatal education, I was struck by the insistence in the 1960s and ‘70s editions of Myles’ ‘Textbook for Midwives’ that pregnant women should walk in the fresh air for two hours a day. In my senior years, I, too, aim to go out for a walk every day, but then it’s easy for me (a healthy choice that’s an easy choice) because I live in the country surrounded by fields. Not so easy if you’re living in a town or city where the open areas are dirty or unsafe. How often have you seen mothers hanging onto young children who are clearly desperate to run - simply to run and jump and climb - but who can’t let them do so because the environment doesn’t allow it?

There’s a new café opened in the city near where I live that is called ‘Healthy Choices’ and it does offer lovely food from smoothies to wholemeal scones, to vegetarian stews and seasonal fruit crumble. But it’s expensive. Other cafes serving cakes at 1,000 calories a throw and containing enough sugar to sweeten a bathful of lemon juice are far less expensive.

So, do I think we need to get public spaces onto the Early Years Early Intervention agenda and into our thinking – yes? And do I think we should have a sugar tax? Yes, I do. I don’t buy the argument that a sugar tax would be an intolerable intrusion of the Nanny State into people’s lives. The Nanny State has legislated for no smoking in public venues and the vast majority of us are delighted to be able to socialise in environments where we can see the people we’re with, rather than vaguely discerning them through a smoky fug (some of you will remember those days – why did we put up with it for so long?)

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