Child obesity is headline news again – and not for good reasons…
As Nursery World reported last week, the outgoing CMO, Professor Dame Sally Davies’ final report on child obesity is a damning indictment of our lack of progress and warns of further problems ahead if we don’t act now, particularly for children living in the most deprived areas. Professor Davies predicts that, on our current trajectory, as many as one in three children in the most deprived areas will be obese by 2030. And, as we all know, obesity is shorthand for poorer health outcomes and life chances in later life, as well as preventable conditions in childhood such as Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.
Image: The health impacts of obesity in childhood reported by the CMO, 2019
Together we are stronger
At the same time, the recently published public health strategy for England, Healthy Lives, Healthy People, unequivocally points to the early years as a critical point of intervention to secure happy and healthy lives for future generations. The strategy advocates a joined-up approach that brings together national and local government, the NHS, charities, schools, higher education, voluntary groups, businesses, and employers. For those of us in early years who have been working across sectors for many years to introduce the national Physical Activity and Nutrition Co-ordinator (PANCo) role, this is music to our ears.
We have the frameworks
It’s time now to turn intentions into commitments. Professor Davies urges all sectors to go ‘further and faster’ recommending for early years that ‘Food, drink and physical activity standards should be set and adhered to in all schools and nurseries.’ This is achievable and we know from the evidence of our pilot work that it will have wide scale benefits for both children and staff. The national CMOs updated their Physical Activity guidelines this year and there is also clear national guidance for food and nutrition. The missing link in many settings is a person who is trained in, and responsible for, promoting health across the setting – and this is why the PANCo role was created, now endorsed by CACHE as a Level 4 qualification. Given the scale of the challenge ahead of us to turn the tide on obesity and poor levels of wellbeing, it’s time we moved towards championing the health and wellbeing of children in early years as the norm, rather than the exception, in every setting. The recently updated Ofsted inspection guidance makes it clear that our sector has a responsibility for health and wellbeing of both children and staff. One way to go ‘further and faster’ would be to make the PANCo a mandatory role in every setting, in the same way that SENCos are now recognised for their vitally important work.
PANCo training fit for the future
For those who know me, you’ll know that bringing the PANCo training to early years educators has been my mission throughout my time as Director of the Old School House Nursery in Cambridge, and now as Director of PurpleBee Learning. I’ve been privileged to work with many brilliant people and I’ve learned so much about what works and what doesn’t. I believe passionately that we can get this right for children and our new fully online PANCo qualification is my way of giving back to the sector that has given me such a fulfilling career. I want to share the knowledge my staff team and other nurseries have accumulated over the years and, by working with other experts in education, health, behavioural and positive psychology we have developed a course that provides a blueprint for taking action from the ground up. We’ve built on the early work of PANCos and we’ve listened to what PANCos tell us they need to be effective. In designing the course, the PurpleBee team have worked hard to make the health promoting model of ‘wellbeing-in-action’ accessible to a wider audience. All PANCos have access to our Start Life Well assessment tools which allows them to benchmark their setting against best practice in healthy eating and physical activity and to make positive steps towards whole setting changes.
Building a groundswell of evidence
As we roll out our PANCo training, PurpleBee is also investing in metrics to keep track of the wonderful work that PANCos are doing across the country. By capturing this data, we hope to build a groundswell of evidence that we can feed back to Local Authorities and national government as well as sharing with Further Education colleges who are developing their own courses. As a CACHE stakeholder, we will continue to support the PANCo qualification as it grows and develops and do all that we can to make the work of PANCos a central feature of every early years setting. We’ve got the framework, we’ve got the evidence and we’ve got the guidance. Together we stand a real chance of improving the chances of our young children but we must take action now.
Linda, CEO of PurpleBee and co-founder of the PANCo qualification.
For more information about the PANCo you can access the free course here: Get up to Speed with PANCo in 15 minutes
Join the PurpleBee Early Years Wellbeing Hub