Australian children today have the potential to live longer, happier and healthier lives than generations gone before them - but it will be an opportunity squandered unless parents embrace a simpler, more wholistic approach to children's health and wellbeing, according to a new report unveiled by the University of Notre Dame Sydney.
The Little People, Big Lives report, commissioned by Sanitarium Health Food Company, calls on parents to refocus on the big picture when it comes to childhood health and combating emerging risks such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and mental health issues. The literature review collates its findings and practical recommendations into five critical action areas: Safety, Security, Love & Belonging; Healthy Eating & Drinking; Active Play; Healthy Sleep; and Positive Screen Time. Researchers point out significant interplay between the action areas and advise parents not to look at them in isolation.
Professor Christine Bennett AO, Dean of Medicine at The University Notre Dame, who led the team in developing the report, said: "To combat the big emerging threats facing Aussie kids including obesity, type 2 diabetes and mental health issues, we need to take a wholistic view on our health. It's not about 'quick fix solutions', but rather going back to basics. Healthy eating and physical activity are important but there's more we need for a healthy start to life.
"Active play, good sleep, limiting screen time, love and care, are all vital to a child's positive self-worth and social connection.
"Spending time without technology - making time to eat together as a family, as well as play, sing, dance and read are all critical to childhood. Many parents will be interested to know these simple activities have the potential to be powerful contributors to their child's physical health and emotional wellbeing, with evolving scientific evidence supporting why we need to take a holistic view of health."
Ada Nicodemou, Aussie actress, mother and ambassador for the Little People Big Lives campaign, believes it's time to take a step back and look at what really adds the most value to our children's lives.
"Parenting isn't rocket science, although with all the information we're bombarded with, it can sometimes feel that way. What I love about this report is that it demonstrates kids need what they have always had – love, care, encouragement, playtime and movement, nutritious food as well as restful sleep. Taking a step back from the noise today, giving our kids the best start in life doesn't seem so complicated anymore.
Family life: Key statistics
On average, parents spend 9.3 hours dedicated time with their children each week. Conversely, children spend 14.6 hours each week being entertained by screens (watching TV and gaming).
Screen time is the leading cause of broken or inadequate sleep for one in four (26%) 12-15 year olds.
Nearly half (45%) of children not spending any time walking to school.
Most Aussie children play little part in what gets on to their dinner plate, with almost two-thirds uninvolved in meal selection, food preparation or grocery shopping.
"I'm the first to admit family life is incredibly busy, that's why the practical recommendations in this report resonate with me. It's the little things like family dinners, playing in the backyard and one-on-one conversations before bedtime that set up our kids for a lifetime of good physical and mental health. And we all have time for that!"
A YouGov Galaxy research study, commissioned by Sanitarium in support of the Little People, Big Lives report, has uncovered a number of trends in Australian family activity, which highlight opportunities to improve children's health and wellbeing through simple everyday habits.
With half of Australian children not spending any time walking to school2, the report highlights that while this activity may seem relatively insignificant, it can play a critical role in improving health and wellbeing. While parking an extra 10 minutes away can incidentally add an extra 1.5 hours to a child's weekly physical activity levels, walking to school also provides an opportunity for parents to build stronger connections with their children, improving their wellbeing.
The YouGov Galaxy research study also found Aussie children are disengaged in their eating habits. In the kitchen, few children (37%) are involved in meal preparation. When it comes to meal-time, more than half of children (57%) eat at least one meal a week looking at an electronic device, and for one in five (18%) this extends to most meals. The report recommends reinvigoration of the family meal to strengthen social connection and suggests 'gamifying' meal time to help stimulate children's nutritional imagination.
To read the report, learn more about the five action areas and practical tips to simplify your family's approach to health and wellbeing visit Sanitarium's Little People, Big Lives microsite at http://www.sanitarium.com.au/biglives.
Question: What is the Little People, Big Lives report?
Ada Nicodemou: It's a new report unveiled by The University of Notre Dame, commissioned by Sanitarium Health Food Company which is all about taking a simple and holistic approach to raising 21stcentury children. The report is broken down by five key action areas of child development – healthy eating and drinking, active play, healthy sleep, positive screen time, and love and belonging. The report was complemented by research by YouGov Galaxy, which revealed how we're become more sedentary and disconnected as a family.
Question: What surprised you most about the Little People, Big Lives report?
Ada Nicodemou: It's surprising to see that even though society has evolved exponentially, when it comes to parenting it's all about the little things that can help make a big difference to lifetime health outcomes. Interestingly, the report highlights the scientific way to raise children, is not so scientific at all! But with so much information out there and the hyper-speed of modern life, it's not always easy to know which choices to make " or find the time to take action.
Question: How did you overcome the challenges and demystify parenting?
Ada Nicodemou: Every parent has their own path and will naturally find the best way to care for their child. The Little People, Big Lives report does is great at cutting through the idea of parenting needing to be overly complex and Mums and Dads feeling like they need to be 'ticking all the boxes'. It's great to be going above and beyond to keep our children entertained with new and exciting ideas, however as a society we underestimate the influencer a good bed time story or walk around the block can have on our children's wellbeing. Focusing on these simple things is what has helped me to demystify parenting because I know.
Question: Do you believe social media plays a role in the persona created around parenting?
Ada Nicodemou: Definitely! We live in a time where everything we do is on display for the world to see and under constant scrutiny. That includes, how we're raising our kids. It can be incredibly positive to share these precious moments with the world, but at the same time you need to take a lot of the commentary with a grain of salt and ensure your number one priority is making your child feel loved. If they are happy, healthy and feel loved, you've done your job regardless of how other people might interpret your social media profile.
Question: In what ways do you believe you have a simple, practical approach to parenting?
Ada Nicodemou: Like most parents I have a very busy schedule, so dedicating time to connect with Johnas one-on-one is so important to me. Something simple as being fully present and avoiding electronics at times when we are together, like dinner and bedtime. For us it's really been about setting ground-rules which lead to routine and now natural habits. to protect those moments.
Question: How can parents implement a "back to basics" approach in their own homes?
Ada Nicodemou: There are endless possibilities for how parents can adopt this approach in their own lives. It could be preparing fresh food together, developing a regular bedtime routine, limiting screen time to a healthy amount and encouraging more playtime and interactive creativity. The research from YouGovGalaxy showed parents are only spending an average of 9.3 hours dedicated time with their children a week, while kids are spending 14.6 hours each week entertained by screens. We need to reconnect with these basic parenting instincts now more than ever, and we all have time for it.
Question: What is the main message you'd like to spread from the Little People, Big Lives report?
Ada Nicodemou: The importance of looking at parenting in a holistic way. These five action areas all interconnect with each other, so it's important to balance all aspects of their wellbeing to ensure our children are set up to live a long, healthy and happy life. Positive screen time feeds into healthy sleep, more active play and greater love and belonging; healthy eating and active play feeds into healthy sleep, and so on. It's about the balance of all five areas, rather than putting too much focus on just one or two aspects at the sacrifice of others.
Question: What advice do you have for a new mum?
Ada Nicodemou: The findings of this report which resonated with me as a mum was the importance of parents not needing to put so much pressure on themselves to 'get it all done', lead a 'perfect house' and 'constantly entertain your kids'. I would say to a new mum, don't overcomplicate it. Sometimes it's ok to just have an at-home day and spend quality time together, or go for a walk around the block to get some fresh air with your kids.
Interview by Brooke Hunter