The route map towards healthy weight sets out early years as a key target group. To give children the best start in life, early life interventions need to begin before and during pregnancy, continue through infancy, in early years settings such as nurseries and child minders and onto school. The early years offer the best opportunity to put in place healthy behaviours around food and physical activity which will be sustained into adulthood. Central to this is the involvement of families, and every opportunity must be taken by all involved to shape and deliver services using health professionals and the third sector in a way that best provides support.
The rise in the number of women who are obese during pregnancy gives cause for concern due to the risks that obesity poses to the health of both the mother and infant, as well as its influence on long term adult health. Maternal obesity can have an adverse effect on birth weight which, in turn, may affect risk of obesity later in life.
In infancy, there is evidence that breastfed babies show slower growth rates which may contribute to the reduced risk of obesity later in life shown by breastfed babies. Infants who gain weight rapidly in the first two years of life are more likely to be overweight later in childhood. There is also evidence to suggest that infants who are weaned onto solid foods at an early age (before 15 weeks) are more likely to be overweight later in childhood.
The map sets out the following actions to encourage healthy behaviours around food and physical activity in the early years by:
- Promoting positive environments for children and families through all our planning, regeneration and transport policies.
- Implementing the ‘Maternal and Infant Nutrition Strategy’.
- Continuing to develop and roll out the Getting It Right For Every Child change management programme for services affecting children and young people, founded on wellbeing indicators including healthy and active that encourage attention to diet and activity.
- Investing to ensure that all pregnant women, and women of children under the age of four who are eligible for Healthy Start are aware of, and apply for, the Healthy Start vouchers.
- Investing to ensure that more babies are breastfed, and for longer.
- Investing to support pregnant women and new mothers to develop healthy lifestyle behaviours, for example through the key elements of parenting programmes and community capacity building in The Early Years Framework.
- Investing to support parents’ knowledge about how they feed themselves and their babies, particularly when babies make the transition onto solid foods.
- Investing in a programme of education and support for health professionals on maternal and infant nutrition to provide the best quality information and support to all women about how they feed themselves and their babies.
- Investing in communications aimed at women of childbearing age pre-conception about the relationship between maternal obesity and adverse outcomes in pregnancy.
- Ensuring that the guidance set out in Nutritional Guidance for Early Years is implemented across all services for children between 1-5 years, regardless of the providers of those services.
- Supporting the third sector to increase opportunities for play through our investment in Inspiring Scotland's Go Play programme.
- Ensuring that nurseries and other childcare facilities minimise sedentary activities during playtime, and provide regular opportunities for enjoyable active play and structured physical activity sessions.