A fifth (20%) of calorie intake among 2–4-year-olds is from treat foods

The research found that treat foods contributed one fifth of saturated fat intake in 2-4-year-olds (19-24%) and over one-quarter of saturated fat intake in 5-12-year-olds (26%)

This rises to a quarter (25%) of calories in children of primary school age



25 October 2022

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New research* for the Start campaign has revealed that a fifth (20%) of calorie intake for children aged 2-4 is from foods like biscuits, chocolate, soft drinks, and savoury snacks. This calorie intake from these treat foods rises to 25% for children of primary school age.

The Start campaign from Safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland is encouraging parents to continue to take steps towards healthier family habits by reducing the amount of treats they give their children and to give healthier snacks when children are hungry.

The research** also found that treat foods like biscuits, chocolate, soft drinks, and savoury snacks contributed significantly to the total intakes of saturated fat and added sugar among children aged 2-4 and 5-12.

Conducted in May 2022, the research analysed existing national food consumption data to understand the role of snacking and treat foods in children’s lives and to identify patterns of consumption in households and how that impacted upon dietary quality overall.

“We want to support parents to rethink their children’s snacks, both in terms of what they buy and what they give. Offering healthier snacks particularly during those after-school times during the week would be a good place to start,” said Dr Aileen McGloin, director of nutrition with Safefood.

“From listening to parents, we know this is a really challenging behaviour to address because treats are readily available and so cheap,” she added. “Healthy snack ideas to offer include crackers and cheese instead of chocolate biscuits, or plain popcorn or breadsticks instead of crisps, or for straight after school, a low-fat yogurt or fruit instead of a chocolate bar.”

Sarah O’Brien, national lead for the HSE’s Healthy Eating and Active Living Programme highlighted “the practical help and support available for parents on www.makeastart.ie including healthy snack ideas and how videos on how to make small changes that will make a big difference for all the family.”

“The key is to make gradual and progressive small changes,” added Dr Colman Noctor, child and adolescent psychotherapist. “If your children have two treats a day, then aim to reduce that to one treat a day on weekdays and two at the weekend. Once this has been achieved it will provide parents with the confidence to continue introducing healthier diet options. Quick wins are crucial to motivational success and maintaining progress!”

Irish athlete Derval O’Rourke said she is delighted to be involved in the campaign which “aims to inspire us all to find one daily win and healthier habits for us all”.

The Start campaign aims to support parents and guardians to talk to children about reducing treats as a family and minimise intake of foods high in fat, salt, and sugar. The campaign website www.makeastart.ie includes lots of practical advice and support on how to reduce treats, ideas for healthy snacks and advice from parenting experts.

*“The role of snacking and treat foods in the diets of children aged 2-12 years on the island of Ireland”. Safefood May 2022)

**Treat foods contributed one fifth of saturated fat intake in 2-4-year-olds (19-24%) and over one-quarter of saturated fat intake in 5-12-year-olds (26%). Treat foods contributed to more than half of total daily free sugars intake in 2–4-year-olds (52-56%).and in 5-12-year-olds (61-65%)



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