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Physical and mental health for young children
Physical and mental health for young children

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2 Promoting children’s health: benefits to different stakeholders

This section summarises the benefits to children, adults, society and education settings of promoting children’s health right from the start of life. Figure 2 summarises the different stakeholders who can benefit from promoting good health and avoid illnesses that are preventable.

This graphic features a number of circles containing text. The one in the centre has the text ‘benefits of promoting health to’ and the options in the other circles are ‘education settings’, ‘the individual and all children’, ‘the family and parents’, ‘adults’ and ‘society’.
Figure 2 summary of the benefits of promoting children’s health in Early Childhood

The document Prevention is better than cure was published by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in November 2018. The content outlined the need to make health promotion a priority for all people, stating that:

greater focus, and spending, is needed on prevention, not just cure…this means services which target the root causes of poor health and promote the health of the whole individual, not just treating single acute illnesses. In practice this requires greater funding for pre-primary, primary and community care – and support for the staff who work in these services.

(Department for Health and Social Care, 2018, p. 1)

This statement acknowledges that promoting health and preventing the causes of poor health needs to start in the early years. Early years practitioners working with young children have an important role to play in working with children right from the start which will have positive benefits to the whole of society.

The individual child

There is increased awareness that healthy habits need to be encouraged right from the start of life, and the early years are important ones in which to give babies the opportunity to experience and learn what will help to promote their health. For example, simply giving babies the opportunity to move around can help them to develop physically which promotes good health. Good habits start right at the beginning of life: nobody is born hating broccoli and only wanting to drink high-sugar, fizzy drinks. However, it is important to be aware that there are many reasons why introducing good habits can be a challenge for many children and their families.

A photograph of a baby laying on its stomach
Figure 3 Babies need opportunities to be physically active to help promote good health

Improving the health of each individual child has many benefits. Feeling healthy, both physically and mentally, mean that children are likely to flourish and have an increased sense of wellbeing. In contrast, a child who experiences poor health is likely to have a reduced sense of wellbeing. Poor health can result in absence from their education setting and can reduce their ability to take part in educational and social activities. In turn, children can feel excluded and may start to fall behind in their development and educational achievement.

It is important to consider the short- and longer-term benefits of promoting children’s health. Health promotion activities and interventions that are effective in the short-term include handwashing to help minimise the risk of spreading communicable diseases. Such diseases include common infections such as the norovirus, other ‘germs’ that can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, and the common cold. These conditions may be regarded as having a short-term impact because they only affect children for hours, or in some cases for days, but they can result in periods of absence for children from their setting. Such absences mean that children are missing out on their early education. The nature of infectious diseases is that they are indiscriminate in who they infect, meaning that the conditions are spread among staff and can of course be spread to others beyond the setting.

There are many examples of how promoting health in children can have long-term influences. For instance, the consequences of a poor diet in childhood can have profound effects, for example obesity in childhood can impact on health in later life because of the increased risk of heart disease.

All children

Promoting health for each child will have positive benefits for all children. For example, minimising the spread of infectious diseases will help to reduce levels of sickness, this in turn will have a positive impact on their wellbeing and increase their participation in their setting and improve their enjoyment of life. It is especially important to consider how reducing the incidence and impact of an infectious disease in children will help to protect children who have complex medical needs or a chronic health condition such as asthma or diabetes.

A photograph of an ill child holding a stuffed toy
Figure 4 Infectious diseases may affect a child with asthma to have an attack

The presence of an ongoing medical condition can make children more vulnerable to becoming seriously unwell with an infection that can have less impact on children who don’t have an existing medical condition.

Parents and families

For families there are several benefits of promoting good health in children and avoiding poor health. A child who is experiencing either short or long-term ill health can place an additional layer of strain on parents and families. When a child feels unwell, this can impact on their behaviour, often making them miserable and difficult to please. In turn, this can cause frustration and upset which can affect relationships.

Short-term illnesses can mean that parents need to miss time from work which can impact on their income. Parents may need to make alternative childcare arrangements which may be distressing for parents and even more importantly, for their children. Long-term poor health or illnesses can mean that children need on-going medical attention, which can mean that parents may not be able to work. Therefore, children’s poor health can create financial hardship.


The benefits of promoting good health in childhood can continue across the age range into and across adulthood. Put simply, a healthy child is more likely to become a healthy adult. Life expectancy is greater now than it was in the past, a child who is born today is likely to live for 81 years (ONS, 2021). However, illnesses that can develop because of childhood obesity (such as diabetes or heart disease), the long-term impact of receiving poor nutrition or the long-term consequences of an infectious disease, can mean that adulthood can be spent in poor health. Having poor health in later age because of early childhood health is a reason why teaching children about behaviours that promote good health is important for a better quality of later life.


Healthy adults who have less reliance on the need for medication and health services reduce the strain on health budgets. Good health in adulthood can mean that individuals play a positive role in society and make a positive contribution to the country’s economy. As stated in the Prevention is better than cure document, ‘a healthy nation is vital for a strong economy’ (Department for Health and Social Care, 2018, p. 5) because having healthy adults means they can continue to work and make a positive contribution.

Education and care settings

Promoting babies and children’s health in education settings can help children to be as healthy as possible so they feel fit and are able to take part in all activities. Babies and children who feel fit and healthy are more likely to have good wellbeing. Feeling unfit and unwell can affect children’s concentration levels and behaviour, and this can affect their learning.

Education settings generally have large numbers of babies and children in a relatively small space, this can be a challenge in preventing the spread of infection. However, minimising the risk of the spread of infection is beneficial so that children and babies are less likely to become unwell. Absence because of staff illness puts additional pressure on all staff and can impact negatively on their wellbeing.

There are many benefits to promoting good health to the individual child and to all members of society, and every adult has a responsibility to understand what they can do to contribute to making children’s health as good as it can be. However, as already discussed in Sessions 1 and 2, there are many factors that can influence children’s health, and the most potent and negative factor is living in poverty. The following sections explore the issue in more depth.