Northern Ireland children eating seven times their daily limit of ‘treats’
Children in Northern Ireland are eating seven times more crisps, biscuits, cakes, sweets, buns, puddings and chocolate on a daily basis than they should be, it has emerged.
The shocking revelation comes in the midst of an obesity epidemic among young people here, with a quarter of two to 15 year-olds reported as being overweight or obese.
New research by Safefood has found that 12% of parents give their children treats at least once a day, while a mere 6% of those surveyed said they never or rarely resort to edible bribery.
Adults cited rewarding good behaviour (42%) as one of the main reasons for giving their children treat foods, while others admitted it was simply because they were asked for them (42%), and over a quarter said it was to make children feel better (29%).
Parents also revealed that they found treats unavoidable, from being a persistent part of celebrations and occasions, to post-activity snacking, to being ever-present while supermarket shopping.
Dr Marian O'Reilly, chief nutrition specialist at all-Ireland food safety organisation, Safefood, said it's time to change our thinking around the term 'treats'.
"This word implies something that is both a reward and something that is infrequent, but parents tell us in our latest research that treats are now 'everywhere, every day' for children in Northern Ireland," she said.
"They make up almost a quarter of what our children eat on a daily basis and have gone from an occasional food to an everyday food.
"Gradually and without realising it, we're routinely giving our children foods which affects their health.
"These foods are linked in the short-term with poor dental health and in the longer term with many chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
"This is just not something any parent considers.
"Treat foods can still be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet, but in small amounts and not every day."
The in-depth research, carried out with parents in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, coincides with the latest phase of the START campaign, a five-year public health awareness and education campaign from Safefood, the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency.
The campaign is encouraging parents to focus on the moment when a child asks for a treat and how they need to take a brave stand of saying no, in an effort to cut down on treats.
Previous Safefood research indicated that almost a quarter of local children's daily diet consists of so called 'treat' foods, which are high in fat, salt and sugar.
The recommended daily intake of unhealthy treat foods should be less than 3% of all food consumed, based on the UK Government's Eatwell Guide.
Excess weight continues to be a major health issue in Northern Ireland, with a quarter of children aged 2-15 years old reported as being overweight (18%) or obese (9%).
One of the key messages from the new campaign is that it takes a hero to be the bad guy.
It warns that cutting back on treats can be really challenging and no parent wants to say no, but in these situations, children need to be protected - "so be a hero and say no".
- Visit the START campaign website at www.makeastart.org for helpful parenting tips on reducing treats, ideas for alternative healthy snacks, practical tools and videos to help reduce treats and supportive advice on how to make a healthy, positive start