Almost 25% of childrens' meals contain junk food, study finds

High-fat foods such as biscuits, crisps, chocolate and sweets are the second-most consumed food group by children, a new study has found.

Almost 25% of all meals consumed by kids now include food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar that are not recommended as part of a healthy diet, research from Safefood found.

The research also found that 29% of children’s afternoon and evening snacks are foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

The study was conducted as part of the START campaign, a five-year public health awareness campaign from Safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland.

It encourages parents to give healthier snacks to children and to only have treats in small amounts, and not every day. Agreeing to changes together as family and having a ‘no-junk-during-weekdays’ plan are also ideas to cut down on treat foods.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health & Nutrition at Safefood said: “The stand-out result in this research is how so-called ‘junk’ food is now a filler between and after meals in families’ daily diets.

"Parents involved in the research told us that afternoons and evenings are the danger times when it comes to giving these foods to their children and to themselves.”

Parents want their children to feel cared for and not to be hungry when they get in from school or before dinner is ready. These ‘junk’ foods, which are full of empty calories, fill that gap and are now a staple in our weekly shop and our children’s daily diets.

"We struggle to avoid these treat foods every day because they’re available everywhere, highly palatable, cheap and frequently on special offer," she said.

Recent research for the START campaign, carried out in an Ipsos MRBI/Safefood survey, highlighted that 1 in 3 parents found it difficult to cut back on treat foods or keep them to a minimum.

Additionally, 36% reported they were not confident about changing their child’s behaviour when it came to eating more healthily.

Sarah O’ Brien, HSE national lead on the START campaign said: “What we hear from parents is that they recognise how important it is to make these changes for their children’s health but it is challenging.

The START campaign is designed to help parents by providing practical tips, advice and support. The campaign partners – Safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland – know that parents also need support from the wider environment.

"Through the Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan we are working to ensure schools, communities, workplaces as well as the food and drinks industry play their part in supporting parents to make healthier lifestyle choices for their families," she said.

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