Guest Blog: Could we be Missing the Boat with our Young People?

Guest Blog: Could we be Missing the Boat with our Young People?

Aliya Porter is a freelance Registered Nutritionist (Public Health). Her specialist work includes weaning support and courses for parents, articles for blogs and magazines and brief interventions training for frontline staff on healthy eating for all ages. Aliya is also an expert guest lecturer at Liverpool Hope University, University of Chester and Manchester Metropolitan University.

If you ask a parent if they have started complimentary feeding they will look at you as if you are speaking a foreign language, so I continue to use the term ‘weaning’ in my work. Weaning is the process of moving a child from a milk only diet to a diet with solid foods. Key to this is the word process. And, it is a process which needs guidance.

Many children don’t become obese whilst they are at school. The NCMP data shows that many are already overweight or obese by the time they are in reception. To add to this tragedy, the number of children under the age of 5 having tooth extractions is rising. With this in mind, we need to look at weaning rather than just focussing on school support.

There has been plenty of evidence put forward around the importance of the first 1000 days but in practice little resource has been allocated to this important stage.

If we are just to take the issues of obesity and tooth extractions we can see that children are being given the wrong foods in early years. Do we blame the parents, or do we blame the food industry? In my opinion, blame is a distraction from the real issue. As public health professionals, we need to educate people about the right choices and then use every tool we have in our tool kit to help people make the right choices.

Food choice is affected by numerous factors. In weaning it is no different.

Here are a few factors:

  • Parental knowledge of what nutritious food for baby is (they need more fat and less fibre when they start weaning than adults do, for example) and what the appropriate portion size is
  • Parental ability to cook. Many parents of young children went through school learning how to make batches of 100 in food technology but they didn’t learn the basics of food
  • Parental access to good, clean kitchen facilities – we mustn’t underestimate how difficult, and expensive it is to cook when you only have a fridge and a microwave, no freezer and no oven or hob
  • Parental budgets and budgeting skills – healthy food need not be expensive but if you have to live on a budget, it takes lots of organisation and skill
  • Parental time constraints – including work, other children, other caring responsibilities
  • The media – including advertising, and no the food industry seem to be producing weaning materials to fill the void of information!
  • Parental tastes and cultural preferences – they are unlikely to serve oily fish if they don’t eat it themselves
  • Grandparents – most parents I speak to mention grandparents at some point
  • Confidence, and parenting skills. This may sound arrogant but parents need to show their children, in a loving way, who is boss. To avoid giving food to comfort, keep children quiet or busy or just because the child asks for it takes effort (sometimes a lot of effort) and can be very draining. Helping parents with this can really help them give their child a better diet.

We have to look seriously at the support we are giving to parents about to start the weaning process. Health Visitors do an amazing job but they have limited time and many different pulls on their resources. I don’t think inviting parents to watch a simple video with a Q & A time is enough. We need to support people in food choice, we need to give practical tips and real life examples and we need to make sure we don’t increase the health inequalities gap by only suggesting foods which will take ages to make, require equipment only chefs have in their kitchens or use expensive ingredients.

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