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Empowering child nutrition

10 Dec 2022

It’s not enough to tell parents to feed their children healthy food, says nutrition expert Anthea Brand. Primary health care nurses also need to look for ways to empower healthy eating – by targeting food storage, shopping habits, and other less obvious enablers.

Healthy eat­ing is so much more than look­ing at food, says Anthea Brand, whose work with fam­i­lies in remote com­mu­ni­ties in the NT influ­enced her PhD the­sis topic. 

We need to talk about a myr­i­ad of oth­er fac­tors that influ­ence what par­ents feed their chil­dren,” says Anthea. 

Par­ents know their chil­dren should not be eat­ing lol­lies and lots of fruit drinks. Per­haps they had the inten­tion of car­ry­ing that out, but when they went shop­ping with the chil­dren, they’d have a tantrum at the shops. 

Solu­tions can be, give them a healthy snack before you go shop­ping so they’re not hun­gry, have some­one else do the shop­ping, get some­one to look after them while you do the shop­ping. Dilute the fruit juice.” 

Anthea has worked in rur­al and remote com­mu­ni­ties for more than 20 years, first­ly in far west NSW and west­ern Vic­to­ria, before going to the NT about 10 years ago. 

Work­ing in a health pro­mo­tion and pre­ven­ta­tive health role, Anthea began to see that eat­ing habits and food pref­er­ences real­ly start­ed right from the moment a baby is intro­duced to sol­id food. 

The first two years are cru­cial, an oppor­tune time to shape what a child prefers in terms of taste and food choic­es, how reg­u­lar­ly they eat and pat­terns of food eat­ing,” she says.

Gary Radler – Austockphoto

[Work­ing in fam­i­ly health cen­tres] I could see it was so impor­tant to stim­u­late casu­al con­ver­sa­tions, to step away from your own agen­da… You sit and have a con­ver­sa­tion about their needs, back­ing away from the tra­di­tion­al feel­ing of need­ing to come up with solu­tions to what you see are the issues. It works much better.”

Anthea gave the exam­ple of con­cern around chil­dren chok­ing, which can con­flict with oth­er advice that par­ents should be giv­ing their chil­dren iron-rich foods like meat, which can be one of the trick­i­est foods for young chil­dren to eat. Then that could lead into dis­cus­sions about safe eat­ing envi­ron­ments, rather than chil­dren eat­ing while they’re walk­ing around,” Anthea points out, which can then lead onto oth­er dis­cus­sions such as the gag reflex.

Then per­haps the dis­cus­sion will go into increas­ing tex­tures of food, as speech is relat­ed to the devel­op­ment of oral motor skills. Talk­ing and eat­ing are con­nect­ed. That poten­tial­ly might lead to a child being tak­en care of by a speech pathol­o­gist or an occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist about sen­si­tiv­i­ty to foods, and aver­sions to cer­tain foods.” 

Anthea, who com­plet­ed her PhD in 2020, is now involved in edu­ca­tion and stu­dent place­ments for nurs­es and says this move has giv­en her oppor­tu­ni­ties to be in con­tact with stake­hold­ers who can influ­ence the nec­es­sary changes. Among oth­er roles, she is now a project direc­tor for the Remote Pri­ma­ry Health Care (CARPA) manuals.

Com­pre­hen­sive pri­ma­ry health care is talked about, is pro­mot­ed – but in many instances it’s not car­ried out,” says Anthea. 

Don’t bom­bard par­ents with nutri­tion­al knowl­edge. Maybe the issue for them is a fridge that’s not work­ing well, stor­age con­tain­ers that aren’t prop­er­ly sealed against insects.

Maybe the fam­i­ly doesn’t have a decent knife and chop­ping board. That’s why they buy pre­pared food. 

Per­haps set up a pro­gramme of com­mu­ni­ty cook­ing, a com­mu­ni­ty kitchen area, access to stor­age con­tain­ers. The store may be throw­ing out fan­tas­tic stor­age con­tain­ers that they’d received their bulk food in. 

Many health pro­fes­sion­als have estab­lished rela­tion­ships with oth­er organ­i­sa­tions in the com­mu­ni­ty – schools, child­care cen­tres, coun­cils,” says Anthea. 

Think about how those asso­ci­a­tions can be used to improve diet. Iden­ti­fy who you need to be work­ing with across dif­fer­ent lev­els to help cre­ate an envi­ron­ment that sup­ports healthy eating.”

For more infor­ma­tion on child health and nutri­tion, you can watch CRANAplus’ free, on-demand, three-part Child Health webi­nar series, which fea­tures Anthea.