safefood is urging parents to redouble their efforts to reduce unhealthy treat foods in their children’s diets as new research¹ indicates over 40% of parents routinely give their children treats like crisps, chocolates and sweets at least once a day or more. The research was carried out to coincide with the third year of safefood’s three year campaign to tackle the everyday habits which can lead to childhood obesity.
The research¹ conducted with parents across the island found that the majority of parents (73%) didn’t consider things like crisps, chocolates and sweets given on a daily basis as ‘treats’. Among children, those aged 5 and under were given the most treats, with 50% getting a treat ‘at least once a day or more’.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said: “The stand-out disappointing result in this research is that we’ve seen an increase in the number of parents reporting giving food treats daily to children. Parents are really finding this difficult and these products are simply empty calories. Over-consumption of these treats, and there is major over-consumption, is a serious threat to our children’s future health. As parents, we need to break the bad habits of giving these every day as it’s now become the norm and not really a ‘treat’ anymore.
“One of the foundations of our campaign has been the honest and direct feedback from parents and they have told us that they consider this daily food treating as ‘bribing up their kids’ – they routinely give these to ease any difficult situations that arose during the day and to allow themselves a little more peace and quiet. However parents also told us they are uneasy about this behaviour. Parents were also surprised to learn that crisps and biscuits fall into the treats category as these have been given as daily staples for example, after school or after dinner at home”, continued Dr Foley-Nolan.
Among those parents who reported cutting back on treats, the three most popular ways were cutting back to weekends only (30%); buying smaller-sized treats (23%) and restricting treats to every other day (23%).
“It is great to see that some parents report making these practical changes”, added Dr Foley-Nolan. “Parents say that it’s not easy to cut down on these treats especially when they are everywhere, are so cheap and children are used to overindulging in them. But there are several ways to cut back and break the bad habits, for example, giving treats less often or at weekends only would be a great start. Tactics like having healthier snacks like raisins or popcorn in the car or your bag or even a non-food treat like football cards can also help. Or course there is also the ‘no buy’ solution – if you don’t buy them in the first place, your children won’t constantly ask you for them”.
John Sharry, CEO Parents Plus Charity and Senior lecturer at the School of Psychology in University College Dublin, said: “It takes time and patience to break bad habits around treats and food – but the good news is it can be done. Learning to say No gently and firmly and focusing on positive healthy alternatives is the key. Make it a family project to become more healthy and happy – sit down with your children and plan out some positive changes you want to make together such as picking the alternative healthy treats you can have during the week.”
safefood has created a number of tools to help parents to break the bad habits of treats and these include practical guides on the calories in popular varieties of children’s sweets, crisps and chocolates; expert videos with advice on how to cut down on treat foods and how to make healthier changes as a family.
¹Millward Brown/safefood survey of 833 adults on the island of Ireland; November 2015. Interviews were carried out on a face-to-face, in-home basis with parents of children aged 12 and under.