Two out of five parents routinely give their children treats like crisps, chocolates, and sweets at least once a day or more.
Research by Safefood also found that 73% of parents did not consider products such as crisps, chocolates, and sweets given on a daily basis as treats.
Among children, those aged five and under were given the most treats, with 50% getting one at least once a day.
Safefood decided to conduct the research in the third year of its campaign to tackle everyday habits that can lead to childhood obesity.
Safefood’s director of human health and nutrition, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, said they know parents were finding it difficult to break what had become a bad habit of giving treats every day.
Dr Foley-Nolan said one of the foundations of its campaign had been the honest and direct feedback from parents who admitted using treats to bribe their children.
Some parents said they routinely gave treats to ease any difficult situations that arose during the day and to allow themselves a little more peace and quiet. Dr Foley-Nolan said parents knew that bribing their children with treats was not a good idea and felt uneasy about it.
“Parents were also surprised to learn that crisps and biscuits fall into the treats category as they have been given as daily staples such as after school or after dinner at home,” she said.
Among those parents who reported cutting back on treats, the three most popular ways were restricting them to weekends only (30%); buying smaller-sized treats (23%), and restricting treats to every other day (23%).
Dr Foley-Nolan said it was great that some parents were reporting making practical changes. “Parents say that it is not easy to cut down on these treats especially when they are everywhere, are so cheap, and children are used to over-indulging in them,” she said.
However, there are several ways to cut back and break the bad habits, said Dr Foley-Nolan, adding that a great start would be giving treats less often or at weekends.
“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.”
There is also the simple ‘no buy’ solution — if parents do not buy treats in the first place, their children would not constantly be asking for them.
The chief executive of Parents Plus Charity and senior lecturer at the School of Psychology in University College Dublin, John Sharry, said parents could learn to say no to their children.
“It takes time and patience to break bad habits around treats and foods but the good news is it can be done,” he said, stressing that learning to say no gently and firmly and focusing on the positive healthy alternatives are key.
Safefood has created a number of tools to help parents break the bad habits of treats, including practical guides on the calories in popular sweets, crisps, and chocolates.
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