Campaign launched to encourage parents to swap junk food for healthy options

A new campaign is encouraging parents to swap treats for something a little healthier as research reveals that they have become everyday staples for children.

Research from safefood, which promotes safe and healthy eating, shows that foods like biscuits, crisps, chocolate and sweets are the second most consumed food group by children.

Almost 25% of all meals now include food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar that are not recommended as part of a healthy diet. Also, 29% of children's afternoon and evening snacks are foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, safefood's director of human health and nutrition, said: “The stand-out result in this research is how so-called junk food is now a filler between and after meals in families' daily lives. We struggle to avoid these treat foods every day because they're available everywhere, highly palatable, cheap and frequently on special offer."

The START campaign ( from safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland, is encouraging parents to give healthier snacks to children and to only have treats in small amounts, and not every day.

The five-year public health awareness campaign is encouraging families to take the first step towards a healthier lifestyle for their children and to stick with the changes made.

HSE national lead on the START campaign, Sarah O'Brien, said the campaign is relevant and realistic and could achieve results. It is designed to help parents persist with lifestyle changes, no matter how difficult they become.

One in three parents said they find it hard to cut back on treat foods or keep them to a minimum, with more than a third not feeling confident about changing their child's eating behaviour.

Meanwhile, a national conference taking place in Dublin Friday and Saturday to mark European Obesity Day will focus on addressing weight stigma and patient advocacy.

Chairwoman of the Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland, Dr Jean O'Connell, said high levels of bias among healthcare professionals means that patients with a higher weight are less likely to seek medical care.

One of the international speakers, Arya Shama, a professor of medicine at the University of Alberta, Canada, and founder and scientific director of Obesity Canada, has criticised the "eat-less-move-more" public health and clinical approach to obesity management and prevention.

"This approach fails to acknowledge the complex interaction between environmental and neurobiological mechanisms which play a large role in determining body shape and size, much of which is beyond the control of the individual," he said.

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