Children given treats ‘to make them feel better’

A survey of more than 1,000 parents, grandparents, and others has found that 42% give their children treats simply because they ask for them and almost one in three do so “to make their children feel better”.

The survey was carried out by Christine Shane of University College Dublin and also found that 42% said they give children treats as a reward for good behaviour.

The findings were among those discussed at the annual Association for the Study of Obesity on the island of Ireland in Dublin.

The research pinpointed consumption of high-energy foods in the absence of hunger as a key target to cope with obesity. The 1,039 participants included 651 parents, 210 grandparents, 61 childminders and 117 education practitioners, including teachers and sports coaches. The survey found that the treat-giving by parents, grandparents, and childminders is similar but that those in education do far less treat-giving.

While more than 90% said they provide treat foods at celebrations such as birthdays and Christmas, 68% of respondents have structured food treats, such as a weekly treat or daily treat.

Sweets, chocolates and ice-cream are the most popular treats given.

A separate study on the views of 95 teenagers from six schools indicates that many perceive “a lot” of food outlets close to their schools and that they are attracted to outlets with deli counters, sweets and those offering discounts. The research by Colette Kelly of NUI Galway indicates many young people find healthy options difficult to find.

Research by academics at UCD found that, out of 295 vending machines in HSE premises, all meet 2015 guidelines on the breakdown between having 60% ‘better choice’ drink options such as water and fruit juices, and 40% ‘other choices’, with diet soft drinks the most purchased.

Another UCD-based survey found that of 530 people, just over half said they regularly buy sugar-sweetened beverages. UCD conducted an eight-week trial where all such drinks were removed from the campus and while one third of those questioned said they’d oppose an outright ban, 38% would support it.

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