I recently found a letter I had written in 2014 to the London boroughs arguing that if we were serious about stemming childhood obesity we needed to work together to support children grow up to lead long, healthy and independent lives and be able to play as full a role in society as possible.
At the time, I noted that the child obesity issue was grave with spiralling statistics and hugely concerning impact on the NHS. We needed a quick, strategic response underpinned by solid local multi-disciplinary partnerships.
Fast forward to 2019 and the situation is even more serious. Obesity is now one of the main causes of cancer. We have not solved the problem but at least we recognise that action that creates change takes a long strategic focus. Look at Leeds, they have seen some improvement after a solid 10-year plan.
London, has started to think strategically and I am pleased to be a member of the Mayor's Child Obesity Taskforce chaired by Paul Lindley. We have agreed to build a plan that will help us tackle obesity and its complexities in a multi layered way using the nudge behavioural principles. We are looking at it through the eyes of a child from birth to school and all the steps she will meet along the way. Including her food and nutrition at home, in nursery and school, physical exercise indoors and outside, the availability of affordable healthy food, her encounters with the obesogenic environment and the people who will champion her becoming and staying healthy.
As chief executive of an organisation dedicated to the care and education of nearly 5,000 children under five, the responsibility to advocate for a healthy future was clear. Faced with such overwhelming statistics, its hard to know where to begin so it's easier to behave like an ostrich. So, my view was to start where we are and that's what we did.
So, we started with nursery food; in particular what we bought and how we cook it. What became obvious quite quickly was there was no proper qualification for chefs cooking for children under eight. The result was the Level 2 Diploma in Food Procurement and Cooking for Early Years.
Accredited by Cache the qualification was designed to strengthen the important roles chefs play in educating staff and parents and influencing children to become the next generation of healthy and informed foodies. In effect making the default options healthier.
However, to have a qualification was insufficient, I wanted it to be part of a chef academy so we could provide the qualification to every chef and young apprentices. The academy will collect and collate data, undergo action research and evaluate the impact on children's food consumption in nurseries across the country. If we can do this we may make a difference in the future.
The LEYF Chef Academy launched on 11 July.
June O'Sullivan is chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website