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Mayor launches programme to give London’s under-fives best possible start in life

Healthy Early Years London helps children and families learn about healthy eating, exercise and social and emotional development

Programme forms a key part of the Mayor’s new Health Inequalities Strategy.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched an innovative new scheme to support London’s youngest children and tackle health inequalities across the capital.

Sadiq today (Wednesday 17 October) unveiled his Healthy Early Years London programme, as he met staff, young children and their parents at the Acacia Pre-School Children’s Centre, in Mitcham.

The programme forms a key part of the Mayor’s new Health Inequalities Strategy, which is designed to make the capital a healthier and fairer city by keeping people well and tackling the conditions that affect health.  

Londoners currently face stark disparities in health depending on their incomes and where they live, and this can begin at the youngest of ages. In Tower Hamlets, babies are more than two-and-a-half times more likely to be born at a low birth weight than those in Richmond upon Thames, while across London the development of five year olds on free school meals are almost three months behind their peers.

Across England, obesity in children in reception classes living in the most deprived areas is more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas. In London, currently almost one in five children in reception year are overweight or obese, while one in four five year olds has tooth decay.

The Mayor is committed to reducing these inequalities and through his new awards programme, nurseries, children’s centres, playgroups and childminders will be given support to help infants and pre-school children learn about the importance of healthy eating and exercise, as well as a range of social and emotional development.

The programme encourages children and families to eat healthy food, drink water, play outside, walk or cycle, sleep well, sing and read, and learn skills including brushing their teeth properly, as they develop behaviours that will prepare them for school and life outside.

Nurseries, children’s centres, playgroups and childminders are also encouraged to work closely with parents and carers as they progress through each level of the programme to improve the health, wellbeing and development of the capital’s youngest children.

It has been successfully piloted at 60 early years childcare providers across six boroughs and is now being expanded across the capital allowing any of the 13,000 providers to sign up. It will be evaluated with support by Bloomberg Philanthropies Partnership for Healthy Cities and has been highlighted by the World Health Organisation and Partnership for Healthy Cities as an example of good work across the globe.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Our capital faces huge health inequalities and it’s shocking that, even from the youngest of ages, children’s health suffers because of the circumstances into which they are born. We know that giving children the best start in life is the most effective way to address health inequalities in the longer term, and we all have a role to play in ensuring that every London child can enjoy the best possible start to life. That’s why through our new Healthy Early Years London programme we’re looking at every aspect of a child’s life so that we can help them grow and develop in the healthiest possible way.”

Mike Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, said: “Cities can help give children a strong start in life through policies that will help them maintain healthy lifestyles as they grow. Through the Partnership for Healthy Cities, cities around the world are pioneering innovative ways to improve childhood nutrition, and I thank Mayor Khan and London for their continued leadership in this vitally important work.”

Prof Yvonne Doyle, Regional Director for London at Public Health England and Health Advisor to the Mayor, said: “A healthy start in life has a huge impact on health and wellbeing in later years, but we know that there are major health inequalities in London. We want to ensure that every London child has the opportunity to flourish – that’s why at the heart of the Mayor’s Health Inequalities strategy is the drive to create a healthier, fairer city, where nobody’s health suffers because of who they are or where they live. Wide uptake of the Healthy Early Years London programme will build a strong foundation for helping London’s children get ready for school and life outside. The programme will support children, families, and early years settings to learn about the importance of healthy eating, being active and staying well.”

Dr Tom Coffey OBE, Mayoral Health Advisor, said: “It’s clear that a healthy start to life can make a real difference in improving a child’s wellbeing, achievement and long-term prospects. By working together, we can help children develop in the healthiest possible way and by delivering on the Mayor’s Health Inequalities Strategy we can tackle the severe inequalities that our capital faces.”

Corinna Hawkes, Vice-Chair of the Childhood Obesity Taskforce, said: “Providing tasty, healthy food in nurseries, children centres, playgroups and creches is absolutely critical to help London’s young children learn to eat well. The Mayor’s Healthy Early Years London programme is the fundamental starting point on which further efforts to address London’s obesity crisis can build.”

Dr Helen Crawley, director of First Steps Nutrition Trust, said: “Healthy Early Years London is a fantastic opportunity for early years settings in London to show they provide a holistically healthy environment for the children they care for, with support on eating well, being active and appropriate social, emotional and language development at the heart of what they do.”

Sir Sam Everington, GP and Chair of the London CCG Chairs, said: “In some areas of London by the age of five, half of children have serious holes in their teeth and are vitamin D deficient, more than one in 10 are obese and their educational development is 10 percent below the national average. A healthy start in life is crucial to health and wellbeing, education achievement and life opportunities. Health and wellbeing needs to be the priority of all of us in early years through to adulthood. As a father of five children, there is nothing more important to me, than their physical, mental and social health and wellbeing.”

Karim Brohi, Professor of Trauma Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The Early Years are a critical time in developing a child's mind and body for the demands of later life. Wide uptake of the Healthy Early Years London programme will build a strong foundation for injury prevention, protecting the future of London's young people.”

Melanie Pilcher, Quality and Standards Manager at Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “Healthy Early Years London complements the work of the Mayor’s three Early Years Hubs, which are improving access to high-quality early education and childcare for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the Mayor’s Healthy Schools London programme for school-age children.”

Prof Russell Viner, President of Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: “We know that children born in deprived areas are more likely to have poor health outcomes than their more affluent peers. This unfair situation needs to be addressed through the provision of levelling services and initiatives, which is why programmes like Healthy Early Years London are so welcome. Teaching young children and their families about nutrition, exercise, tooth-brushing and other aspects of well-being equips them with the necessary skills and knowledge to lead healthy lives. This programme will play an important role in tackling health inequalities and ensuring that all children, regardless of their family’s income or postcode, have the healthiest possible start in life.”

Mike Sheridan, Ofsted’s Regional Director for London, said: “We welcome the Mayor’s initiative. Early years providers have an important role to play, alongside parents and families, in helping children to lead healthy lives. This programme will support providers in their work with children and families, to give children the best start in life.”

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