Junk food forms a quarter of child’s daily diet in Northern Ireland
NI kids eating fatty snacks ahead of fruit and veg: study
Almost a quarter of a child's daily diet in Northern Ireland consists of junk food, a new study has revealed.
New research by Safefood found that high fat foods - including crisps, biscuits, cakes, sweets and chocolate - are the second most consumed food group by children here.
The statistics show that young people are reaching for salt and sugar filled snacks ahead of fruit and veg, and starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes and bread, which are essential ingredients for a healthy diet.
The study which was conducted as part of a five-year public health awareness campaign showed that children consumed the highest amounts of junk food later in the day.
Almost 40% of afternoon snacks and 25% of evening snacks consisted of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of human health and nutrition at the all Ireland body responsible for food promotion, said "highly palatable, cheap and frequently on special offer" junk food has become a filler between after school and before dinner.
"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," she said.
"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." Latest research for the START campaign - a public health awareness campaign from Safefood, the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency - suggested 36% of parents lacked the confidence to change their child's eating behaviour. But nutritionist Jane McClenaghan said parents must learn to help their children connect better with the food they eat to avoid them having low self-esteem and other problems.
"Children need to think about how food makes them feel rather than just focus on how it tastes," she said. "If children eat healthy they are much more likely to continue eating healthy as adults - we already know that 25% of children are obese. We need to make sure everyone understands that bad food choices can result in poorer concentration and behavioural issues."
The food expert, who suggested parents bring dinner time forward if they can, also called on big supermarkets to act more responsibly by ending offers on unhealthy foods.
The author of The Vital Nutrition Cookbook also believes the loss of cooking skills has contributed to the crisis.
"Less and less people are able to cook from scratch and this decline has been going on for generations," Jane added.
"Peanut butter on toast, carrot sticks and humus, cheese and crackers or even a glass of milk can be great alternatives to sugary or fatty snacks."