As part of its campaign to take on childhood obesity, safefood is urging parents to say no to everyday sweets, biscuits and crisps and cut down on the amount of treat foods children are eating. Alarmingly, at present 20% of children’s daily calorie intake¹ is from these foods with little or no nutritional value. The latest phase of the campaign is emphasising the importance of reducing treat foods at home and creating healthier snack habits.
It is estimated that on average, a child typically consumes over 16kgs of treat foods per year – the equivalent of 140 small chocolate bars, 105 tubes of sweets, 36 packets of jam filled biscuits and 118 bags of crisps. This doesn’t include foods like ice cream, cakes, pastries, buns and puddings that a child would typically eat.
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and Minister for Children & Youth Affairs James Reilly have joined together with safefood and the Healthy Ireland initiative to launch the campaign.
Welcoming the latest phase of the campaign, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said: “This campaign shows how easy it is to make a real difference to children’s health, by replacing sweets, biscuits and crisps with tasty and healthy alternatives. If you’re healthy when you’re young, you’re more likely to be healthy for life. We know that parents are concerned, and we are all worried about the impact of bad diets, lack of exercise and overweight on children’s health. One in four schoolchildren is overweight or obese. So I’m delighted that safefood is working with our Healthy Ireland initiative to help children and their families to take more responsibility for what they eat. You can get more info at safefood.eu.”
Minister Reilly said: “As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I am very concerned about the effect of childhood obesity. A full quarter of children in primary school are already overweight or obese. It places children at considerable risk into the future when it comes to their health and well-being. This campaign urges parents to say no to every day treats and I would appeal to children to understand how important this is. Mum and Dad will do this for your good. What’s seldom is wonderful and that’s just what a treat should be. It’s really difficult to lose weight once you’ve put it on, so remember the trick is to avoid putting it on in the first place.”
At present, approximately 1 in 4 primary school children are overweight or obese². The prevalence of excess weight is also beginning earlier in childhood, with 6% of 3 year olds currently being obese³.
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood continues “We are giving our children treat foods every day and in many cases, several times a day. These nutritionally poor foods, which are often referred to as ‘empty calories’, are given at the expense of nutritionally rich foods in our children’s diets. Eating patterns developed in early childhood tend to last. Parents need to be aware of the health risks associated with over-consumption of these types of foods. It’s simply a matter of cutting down on treat foods to a more sensible level, basically, much smaller amounts and not every day.”
Supporting safefood’s call for parents to say no, John Sharry, CEO Parents Plus Charity and Senior lecturer at the School of Psychology in University College Dublin, said: “Parents want what’s best for their children and no one wants to take the fun out of childhood. But we’ve reached a point where these so-called ‘treat’ foods are consumed far too frequently and just aren’t treats anymore – as parents, we’ve lost the ability to say ‘no’ to our children and we need to relearn that setting these clear boundaries is an important step in our children’s wellbeing and development.”
The campaign will feature on television and poster advertising and will also be supported on the safefood website www.safefood.eu, Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #letssayno. The website also offers practical tips, advice and support for parents who want to start saying no to treats more often, and advice from health experts on healthy eating and how to be more active.