Healthy habits start early

With the brunt of winter hitting, it can be hard to continue a healthy and active lifestyle in a cold climate. LARA HERNANDEZ and JOE XU from the NSW Office of Preventive Health share various resources and facts for educators and families; they also mention a new program developed by NSW Office of Preventive Health called ‘Time for Healthy Habits’  which is to implement and maintain a healthy lifestyle for

Healthy Habits start early 

Children who develop healthy behaviours from a young age are more likely to continue these habits in the long term, which set them up for a healthier life.

Did you know…

  • Around 1 in 5 NSW children aged 5 to 16 years (21%) are above a healthy weight.
  • Around 1 in 16 children eat the recommended serves of vegetables each day (7%) whilst around 2 in 3 children eat the recommended serves of fruit each day (69%).
  • Only 1 in 4 children are active enough each day (24%).

Early childhood is an important period to establish healthy habits as children are at an important stage in their development where they are constantly learning about the world around them. Children look to their surroundings for cues in what to do and how to act – whether that is copying a sibling’s love of kicking balls indoors, or mimicking a friend’s dislike for peas.

Healthy eating and physical activity help children develop knowledge and habits for a healthy lifestyle and patterns of physical activity that can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight range over their lifetime. There are many other benefits of healthy eating and active play on children, including improvements to concentration, quality of sleep, confidence/self-esteem, social skills, and facilitating the development of movement and coordination. [1]

Putting in place healthy habits can feel difficult at times, but every effort is a small step in the right direction. To promote healthy habits in your early childhood education centre or service, consider some of these ideas:

  • See the Munch and Move resource here, created for early childhood educators
  • Create policies and procedures on good nutrition, food and beverages, dietary requirements, and ensure that these policies are followed.
  • Actively promote healthy eating by providing healthy menu options.
  • Promote play experiences by providing equipment (e.g. hoops, balls, tunnels).
  • For more tips on how you can promote healthy eating and physical activity in your centre, please see the National Quality Framework.

Healthy Habits start at home

The home environment is an important starting point for introducing and reinforcing healthy habits. Research has shown that to promote healthy habits in children, a healthy home environment and parental role modelling are important. That is, children are more likely to be active and healthy eaters, if families encourage them to exercise and eat well, and model those healthy behaviours themselves. [2] Early childhood educators can work with families to reinforce messages between home and the early learning setting.

Time for Healthy Habits

If you are concerned about any of the children in your care, there are a number of programs and resources available you can share with families and carers. One example is Time for Healthy Habits, which is a suite of programs that are currently in the trial stage. The programs aim to help parents with young children (aged 2-6 years) implement habits with healthy eating, physical activity, and sleep.

As a part of this study, participants go through one of three 12 week programs, these options are:

  • An online program with six modules and a closed Facebook group,
  • A telephone counselling program with trained interviewers/coaches or,
  • Printed tip sheets and a summary booklet or an electronic version (sent via mail or electronically).

Time for Healthy Habits is only available for those who live in NSW for now, but may be made available for residents of other states in the future. This project is funded by NSW Ministry of Health Translational Research Grant, and delivered in partnership with the University of Wollongong, University of Newcastle, Murrumbidgee, Illawarra Shoalhaven, Southern NSW, Hunter New England, and South Eastern Sydney Local Health Districts.

If you know of families who would benefit from this program, please refer them to the study website, or they can contact us by email: with their name and contact number and a researcher will get in contact.

Other resources

Some other evidence-based resources that are of benefit to educators and families include:


  • [1] NSW Ministry of Health (2017) Munch & Move Resource Manual: Birth to 5 Years
  • [2] T Østbye, R Malhotra, M Stroo, C Lovelady, R Brouwer, N Zucker, B Fuemmeler.The effect of the home environment on physical activity and dietary intake in preschool children.International Journal of Obesity, 2013; DOI:10.1038/ijo.2013.76

ECA Recommends

Learning opportunities: Food and Cooking
By Bridie Raban and Kay Margetts

Food and cooking provide a variety of opportunities for children to explore the properties of food from a scientific perspective, as well as introducing the importance of healthy eating. This book provides a store of practical ideas focusing on food and cooking, enabling educators to plan ahead with confidence. You can purchase your copy here and is a part of the ECA EOFY sale, view sale items here

Joe Xu'
Written by Lara Hernandez and Joe Xu from the NSW Office of Preventive Health. The NSW Office of Preventive Health delivers state-wide preventive health programs on behalf of the NSW Ministry of Health. The Office functions to enhance coordination of prevention initiatives to reduce lifestyle-related risk factors that can result in chronic disease and unnecessary hospitalisation, with the aim of achieving the NSW State Plan targets.

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