Parents are more concerned about their children being overweight or obese than they are about them engaging in underage drinking or taking drugs.
New research, coinciding with the first year of Safefood’s three-year campaign to tackle the habits that lead to obesity, found parents are gradually improving their children’s diets and increasing their exercise levels over increasing fears about childhood obesity.
Obesity now only ranks behind bullying as the number one concern parents have about their children.
Around one in four primary school children are overweight or obese, while the prevalence of excess weight is also beginning earlier in childhood, with 6% of three-year-olds also obese.
The Safefood research reveals there is now a significant awareness by parents that excess weight in childhood is associated with poorer health in later life.
Just over one in four parents now give their child a food treat at least once a day — down 6% on 2013.
Similarly, the consumption of water by children at mealtimes is up 7%, while the daily consumption of fizzy drinks by children is down 5%.
Almost two in three parents claim their children eat either a half or a third of what the parent eats, while one in eight claim their child eats the same or more than an adult. This claim was highest in the North but has significantly decreased since 2013.
The study found that the number of parents who give more age-appropriate portion sizes to their children has risen 4% in the last two years.
Across the island of Ireland, almost two thirds of parents are determined that their child gets at least one hour of exercise a day, up 6% on the 2013 findings.
Health minister Leo Varadkar said it was heartening to see that families are paying closer attention to their children’s diet and physical activity.
“Childhood obesity is one of the biggest risks to this nation’s future health,” said Mr Varadkar. “It looks like families are increasingly conscious of how even small changes to children’s diet and physical activity can make a big difference.
“I want to commend everyone who has made those small but significant changes to their diets and lifestyles.”
Director of human health and nutrition with Safefood Cliodhna Foley-Nolan said it was now clear that parents “are making concrete efforts” to develop everyday habits associated with maintaining a healthy weight in the children.
“While it’s really encouraging and heartening to see that parents report making these practical changes, it’s much too early to say that we’ve won the battle against childhood obesity,” she said.
“As a society, we didn’t reach this child weight crisis overnight, nor will it be solved in one year, but these results highlight that our campaign messages have really resonated with parents.”
The survey is part of a three-year, all island, campaign to take on childhood obesity by Safefood in partnership with the HSE and Healthy Ireland Framework in Ireland and the ‘Fitter Futures for All’ Implementation Plan in Northern Ireland.
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