Parents are being urged to reduce the amount of treats they give to their children, after new research found that Irish families spend more money on highly processed treat foods than they do on fruit and vegetables.
According to the findings from Safefood, families spend an average of 19% of their weekly grocery shop on treat foods compared to just 10% on fruit and 7% on vegetables.
In monetary terms, families spent an average of €1,037 in 2017 on treat foods, compared to €521 on fruit and just €346 on vegetables.
The most popular treat foods were found to be chocolates and sweets, with families spending an average of €228 on these last year. These were followed by sugary drinks (€199), biscuits (€161) and crisps (€129).
The research only looked at supermarket shops, so did not account for purchases made in outlets such as cinemas, petrol stations and cafes.
The findings were released to coincide with the latest phase of the START campaign, a major public health campaign that was launched last November. It aims to help families get started on the path to a healthier future by making small simple changes each day, such as adding more vegetables at dinner or swapping sugary drinks for water.
Parents are being urged to persist with these changes no matter how difficult they become.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan of Safefood pointed out that treat foods are full of empty calories, but are now ‘a staple in our weekly shop'.
"We accept them as the norm in our children's daily diet and they are not seen as a real treat any more. The balance is all wrong and we're under-consuming the vital nutrients in fruit and vegetables. Undoubtedly this level of consumption by families is contributing to our dangerous levels of overweight, type 2 diabetes and cancer," she said.
She noted that these highly processed foods ‘are everywhere, at all times of the year and are so cheap'.
"It's no wonder that we are finding it difficult to not overindulge our children and ourselves," she added.
According to the HSE's national lead on START, Sarah O'Brien, people love to treat their children or grandchildren, but most know it would be better not to do this with sugary snacks.
"Our research with parents shows that almost half (49%) give treat foods at weekends, and of these more than one in four (27%) use them as reward during the week. But on a very positive note it also shows that almost half of parents have tried to change our children's eating habits and better again, 88% have persisted with that change. So when it comes to treat foods, together we can make that change and ensure our families lead healthier lives," she commented.
For more information on the START campaign, click here
*Pictured at the launch of Safefood's new research is Jayna McCloskey (9) from Whitehall in Dublin and Max Barrett (9) from Sutton in Dublin