Local Government Association report explores early years nutrition

A new report commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) shines a light on the importance of early years nutrition and the relationship between councils and settings across England.

Embedding good nutritional habits and standards from the earliest years sets children off on the right path for a healthy life later on but is also crucial for development.

Bremner & Co were commissioned by the LGA to capture learning from councils across England about nutrition in early years settings. 

This report examines the relationship between councils and all early year settings – maintained, Private and Voluntary Institutions (PVIs) and childminders. It comes at a time when the early years sector is calling on government for more funding and better access to resources and support.

With the first stage of the government’s childcare reforms kicking off in September, the report explores whether the nutritional quality of food in settings across England is adequate. We know that children living in disadvantaged areas are often the hardest hit and therefore it is crucial that settings have high standards of nutrition.

Close to 1.7 million under five year-olds are registered for either the 15- or 30-hour government entitlement.  This means there are 1.7 million young children to feed with little oversight of what they are being fed. The report notes that the mandatory school food standards don’t apply and the voluntary guidance, Eat Better Start Better (EBSB), was last updated over seven years ago.

Funding for early years in councils

The Centre for Social Justice reports that public spending for children under five is five times less than that for secondary school children and that in the past ten years, council spending on early years intervention has decreased by close to 50%.

Councils stated that significant funding cuts have had an impact on their ability to engage in the early years nutrition agenda. This has been exacerbated by Covid-19 and many nutrition programmes have been put on hold or stopped completely.

Local Government Association report: Key statements

  1. The childcare and early years providers survey found there are 1.5 million children registered to attend an early years setting in England
  2. The food they eat in settings greatly contributes to their daily intake of calories – for school food this is estimated to be 30 per cent of their daily calories according to a National Library of Medicine report
  3. Nutrition indicators, such as dental caries and obesity rates, provide an indicator that children’s diets from nought to five may not be supporting their health in an optimum way
  4. Some councils tell us that early years nutrition is often not on the agenda; it is often overshadowed by school food and that there is a lack of political interest in this area
  5. Councils indicated that capacity for supporting early years settings has diminished. Many councils had early years nutrition programmes focused on settings, but these were ceased during Covid and have not been re-established
  6. Many councils focus their efforts on early years nutrition in the maintained sector, however, a Department of Education survey found 77 per cent of nought to five childcare provider places are in PVI or childminders settings, with only 23 per cent in maintained
  7. There is a data gap around whether food served to children in settings meets their nutritional needs
  8. In councils, where good practice exists, it is supported by funding, engaged teams, strong political interest in this agenda and good data. Matrix working and engaging stakeholders in a collaborative manner is core to progress. A comprehensive nought to five strategy that incorporates nutrition, mental health, and physical activity helps early years development and growth
  9. There are challenges to overcome, but also many innovative examples of where councils and settings are striving to meet standards and deliver well-rounded nutrition in the early years.

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