Treat foods such as crisps, chocolate and biscuits are the second most consumed food group by children in Ireland, new research has found.
According to the findings, 29% of children's afternoon and evening snacks, and almost 25% of their meals, include food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt.
The research was carried out in support of the START campaign, which is a five-year public health awareness campaign from Safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland. It was launched in late 2017 and it aims to encourage families to adopt and maintain a healthier lifestyle.
According to Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan of Safefood, the ‘stand-out result' from this research is that 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," she explained.
She also pointed out that families struggle to avoid these treat foods ‘because they are available everywhere, highly palatable, cheap and frequently on special offer'.
The START campaign is encouraging parents to give healthier snacks to their children and to limit treats so that they are only given in small amounts, and are not given every day.
An example of a change that could be made is having a ‘no junk during weekdays' plan.
"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," commented Sarah O'Brien, the HSE's national lead on the campaign.
Recent research for the campaign found that 33% of parents find it difficult to cut back on treat foods or keep them to a minimum, while 36% are not confident about changing their child's eating behaviour.
To find out more about the START campaign, including how to tackle treats in the home, click here.
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