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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 01:57 GMT
Healthy eating plan for toddlers
Children are being encouraged to try different food
An initiative to cut out young children's fussy eating and help combat rising obesity levels is to be rolled out nationally.

The 10-week "Mini-Mend" programme will be open to all families with children aged two to four, not just those overweight and obese.

Children taking part in the programme will be encouraged to taste new foods and exercise.

Their parents will learn about portion sizes and food labelling.

The main focus is around encouraging healthy eating and giving a wide choice of fruit and vegetables and discouraging sedentary activity
Julia Wolman

The programme builds on the success of Mend (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition.....Do it!) which caters for obese children, aged eight to 12.

Results from the five pilot schemes, held in London, South Tyneside and Plymouth, showed good results with children cutting down TV viewing time, exercising more and becoming more adventurous with their foods.

The scheme includes a weekly snack-time session where parents and children are offered bite-size pieces of different food to try, and weekly workshops for parents.

There are also regular sessions where parents and children all cook together, with the aim of getting children involved in food preparation at home.

Whole family

Public health nutritionist Julia Wolman, of Mini-Mend, said the focus of the new programme would be to encourage all children to a healthier lifestyle by educating the whole family.

"It is primarily a prevention programme, supporting parents to raise their children to be the healthiest they can be to prevent weight-gaining problems in the future," she added.

"It is family-based and about changing the whole family's behaviour. The main focus is around encouraging healthy eating and giving a wide choice of fruit and vegetables and discouraging sedentary activity."

She said that although the focus would not be on a child's weight, health professionals would be able to refer toddlers they had any concerns about.

"We are trying to ensure that children have a good relationship with food from an early age because fussy eating can also be a problem," Ms Wolman said.

Reversing the trend

Around 30% of UK children are now considered to be overweight or obese, but organisers hope that by targeting the youngest children they can start to reverse the trend.

Dr David Haslam, clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said the programme could prove ground breaking.

He said: "It is not that we need worry about helping healthy toddlers lose weight, it is just we want them to eat more healthily.

"It helps them find a healthy lifestyle and you avoid obesity and eating disorders, because the foundation stones are the same for both.

"No-one has ever managed to reverse the effects of obesity in their country and Gordon Brown has suggested that we could be the first people to do that.

"And it is through programmes like Mini-Mend that we are possibly going to be able to fulfil that. Prevention is better than a cure."


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