There appears to be variation in food provision in childcare settings across England, as well as variation in the healthy eating guidelines available and/or used by childcare settings, and this is likely to lead to differences in food provision and nutritional health in under-fives. Given the nutritional vulnerability of under-5 year-olds, sub-par nutrition in early years can lead to differences in nutrition-related diseases in later life, as well as considerable health and socio-economic inequalities. Diet at the earliest stages of life plays a crucial role in determining the major chronic diseases currently faced by the English population, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
A majority of young children are cared for either part-time or full time by a form of childcare service in England, and so early years’ settings have a fundamental role in establishing good nutritional health in the 0-5 age group. While there are representative data on children aged 18 months and over in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey and since 2011 data on dietary intake of infants, there are relatively few studies on, and no nationally representative data on, nutritional intake or provision in early years’ settings caring for children under-5 years of age in England. This research provides an opportunity to analyse the role of early years’ settings in food provision and nutrition in England, and inequalities in toddlers’ access to healthy food, in the context of suboptimal diets and existence of nutritional ill-health in young children in England.