About children’s health and nutrition
Learning about healthy lifestyles contributes to children’s sense of wellbeing and builds their confidence in themselves. Adults can help children learn about healthy eating, hygiene and how to keep fit and active. As children become more independent, they can take greater responsibility for their own health, safety and wellbeing.
Healthy eating and physical activity
All young children need help to establish patterns of good eating and exercise for their present wellbeing and for a healthy life. Within this broad focus area, obesity and food allergies/intolerances can present particular problems and can have a major impacts on many children and their families, if not handled appropriately. A key part of learning about and adopting healthy lifestyles involves children seeing these modelled positively and enthusiastically by the important people in their lives. To read more about this, click here to view a newsletter developed by Early Childhood Australia.
There are guidelines provided by the government and other organisation to help parents make good choices about food and drink for children. Just as important as implementing good habits is that adults have conversations with children and provide opportunities for them to learn about eating nutritious foods and how that contributes to good health. Healthy eating habits begun in childhood can have a lasting effect. Every child also needs opportunities every day to be physically active and practice new physical skills, either indoors or outdoors.
Childhood obesity contributes significantly to the health and wellbeing of young children. A wealth of information about physical activity and healthy eating for young children is available through the Get Up & Grow program available in English and nine non-English languages.The resources include guidelines, information for families, recipes and posters. Some resources are specifically for Indigenous families and services.
Quality assured resources to purchase
The ECA Online Shop offers a variety of books and resources for parents that all been quality-assured by early childhood experts. Below are our recommendations for healthy eating and physical activity.
- A matter of fat is packed with practical solutions to help families facing weight problems. The book’s premise is that good food is delicious and doesn’t have to be fattening, and that there are fun ways to be active.
- Active children: Healthy now and later explore how to encourage children to develop and maintain a love of movement, for example through options that allow choice and incorporate play, so having fun is emphasised.
- Everyday learning about fussy eaters is an accessible, easy-to-read book for parents and carers who are concerned about times when babies, toddlers and preschoolers are fussy about their food.
- Everyday learning about healthy bodies is a great starting point for encouraging children to develop sound habits that will ensure their future wellbeing.
- Everyday learning about kids in the kitchen gives you a step by step guide on how you can cook with your children.
- Everyday learning: Physical activity – helping children grow is a resource that covers topics such as physical activity, development, movement through the ages, fundamental movement skills, coordination and balance.
- How to help your overweight child is an easy-to-follow guide that looks at how to tell if a young child is overweight and, if so, what the causes may be.
- Positive food for kids offers simple, effective parenting strategies to help you introduce young children to healthy food – and let them enjoy it!
- Small fry: Inspiration for cooking with kids an inspirational hands-on tool to encourage cooking with children.
Asthma and asthma management
Asthma is a condition of the airways. People with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs which react to triggers that set off their asthma. This makes it harder for them to breathe.
Having a young child with asthma can be frightening, and it’s important to know as much as you can about the condition and how it affects your child. Asthma Australia offer some pages to help you be informed and assist you in supporting young children with asthma here.
It is essential that families and staff work together to achieve the best health and learning outcomes for children with asthma. Below is information tips provided by Asthma Australia.
Make a time to talk with the teacher or carer about your child’s asthma.
- Provide an up-to-date Asthma Plan from your
- Talk about what is normal for your child and their
usual triggers, symptoms and medication
- Talk to other key staff
Update the staff regularly
Update your child’s Asthma Plan:
- At the start of each year
- When their asthma or treatment changes
- For school camps and excursions
Establish ways to communicate
Find out the best ways to communicate with educators and carers, whether it is via email, text, phone or communication diaries.
- Provide your child’s reliever medication and a spacer for use in an emergency
- Include a mask for children under 5 years
- Some children will use their reliever before physical activity
- Make sure medications and devices are clearly labelled with your child’s name and date of birth and that the medication is in date (do not store in a plastic bag)
Ways to help your child
- Explain asthma to your child
- Help them identify their triggers and symptoms
- Help them with a routine for taking their asthma medication
- Regularly check that they are using their asthma medication device properly
A child cannot always communicate their need for assistance. Tell your child what to do if they have an asthma attack and you are not there.
The below text was written by Debra Kay (Former CEO of Asthma Australia) in ECA’s Every Child magazine.
One in 10 children is diagnosed with asthma. It is one of the most common reasons children visit the doctor and go to hospital.
It is not fully understood why children develop asthma, though people with asthma often have a family history of asthma, eczema and hay fever (allergic rhinitis). There is no way of knowing whether a child will continue to have asthma, although there are some risk factors for continuing asthma in some children.
Asthma is different for everyone—people can have different triggers, symptoms and medications for their asthma, and these can also change. Young children can be prescribed asthma medication, depending on how frequently they experience symptoms and how unwell they become. All young children with asthma should have a blue reliever puffer, spacer and mask to relieve symptoms if they have an asthma attack. Some children also have preventer medications, which need to be used daily for the period specified by their doctor, even when the child is well.
All children with asthma should have a written plan which outlines their asthma care. All educators and carers should be trained to administer asthma first aid. This includes administration of salbutamol via the child’s own blue reliever puffer, or one from an asthma emergency kit. It’s best to use a spacer and mask to make sure the medication is delivered effectively.
Healy, T. (2012), Annual Evaluation Report—Asthma Child and Adolescent Program. In possession of Asthma Australia, Kent Town, South Australia.
Baby and infant oral health
The information below is from ECA’s Every Child magazine article ‘Brush those babies! – Baby and infant oral health’.
Babies are born without teeth, and the primary teeth that come through (also known as baby or milk teeth) usually fall out by 11 to 12 years of age.
Some believe that baby teeth are disposable, and only adult teeth require care. However, primary teeth allow children to chew and speak properly, and the molars orthodontically maintain space for the developing adult teeth. Like permanent teeth, primary teeth are susceptible to dental caries (decay) and, if left unattended, can cause pain and abscesses.
Daily care is needed so that children don’t develop dental caries, resulting in the need for restorations (fillings) or early extraction. It’s not just brushing that is required: bottles, dummies and diet all play an important role in how healthy a toddler’s teeth are.
When a child presents with cavities, fillings or missing teeth due to decay before 24 months of age, it is known as ‘early childhood caries’ (ECC). Although preventable, ECC is the most prevalent chronic childhood disease, five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever. Dental check-ups are important for all children, to assess the developing dentition and to identify risk factors for ECC such as:
- developmental enamel defects
- unsupervised brushing and flossing
- frequent snacking
- on-demand breastfeeding past the age of 12 months
- night-time bottle-feeding with liquids other than water, such as milk or fruit juice.
The dentist will discuss ways in which the child can reduce the risk of decay and carers can promote good oral hygiene.
The Australasian and American Academy of Paediatric Dentists, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend an initial oral health check at the time of the eruption of the first tooth and no later than 12 months of age, followed by regular check-ups.
Most children will have their dental check-ups done with a family dentist in a private practice setting, though there are also some government-funded clinics available and limited facilities in public hospital clinics. Children with additional dental needs may be referred to a paediatric dentist.
Tips for mums and dads:
- Oral hygiene: Tooth brushing and flossing on a daily basis is important in helping dislodge food and reduce bacteria plaque levels.
- Diet: Parents should be aware of components of diet that affect dental health, such as the cariogenicity (that is, the potential to cause decay and caries) of certain foods and beverages, the effect of frequent consumption of these substances, and how diet affects the demineralisation and remineralisation of tooth enamel.
- Fluoride: Using a fluoridated toothpaste and drinking fluoridated tap water assist in the formation of enamel and remineralisation of early signs of decay.
- Caries removal: If mothers have active dental caries, they can transfer maternal MS (Mutans streptococci) to their infant. Routine professional dental care and removal of active caries with subsequent restoration can suppress maternal MS reservoirs and minimise the transfer of MS to the infant, thereby decreasing the infant’s risk of developing ECC.
- Delay of colonisation: Avoiding saliva-sharing behaviours (such as sharing spoons with babies) can help prevent early colonisation of MS in infants.
- Xylitol chewing gums: Evidence demonstrates that mothers’ use of xylitol chewing gum can prevent dental caries in their children by prohibiting the transmission of MS.
by Dr Michele Tjeuw
The Cancer Council provides resources about sun safety here for parents.
Advice for parents on backyard safety is available from Kidsafe NSW.