Less healthy food options dominate in places where children play and exercise with vending machines offering the lowest nutritional quality of food, according to the findings of a new study.
Safefood also found parents are generally disappointed at the “greasy”, poor quality and over-priced food choices available at such locations.
The study revealed that just 55% of social and activity centres for children, such as leisure centres and swimming pools, offer fruit or vegetable pieces, while only 30% have soup or vegetables available as a meal option. In contrast, 82% sold chocolate bars, while crisps were available in 73% of outlets with bakery goods such as croissants and muffins on offer in 58% of centres.
The nutritional quality of food available in children's social and activity centers needs to improve. Foods high in sugar, fat and salt are most commonly found and limited healthy options available.— Ruth Kavanagh ANutr (@ruthknutrition) June 15, 2021
Recommendations are outlined by Celine Murrin. #obesityforum @safefood_net pic.twitter.com/r8QJsWgn9l
The study examined food and drink offerings in 65 centres across the island of Ireland. It found that less than 20% of vending machines offered healthier alternative snacks to chocolate bars and crisps.
The research also showed parents are generally disappointed at the food choice on offer in such centres and believe healthier cooking methods – such as baked rather than deep fried options – could be more readily available.
The case studies revealed that the majority of businesses did not recognise the importance of the link between being physically active and healthy eating and the influence they could have on children’s nutrition.
Centre managers and catering staff identified several challenges including maintaining fresh food, the perceived demand by customers for unhealthier options and competition from other businesses.
Safefood issued a number of recommendations in relation to food and drink choices for children when visiting social and activity centres.
They included fruit, vegetables and salads being available at all times, with meal deals including a piece of fruit or portion of salad. It also called for chips or crisps not to be provided as an accompaniment to sandwiches.
Safefood said the introduction of “healthy” vending machines could make an important contribution to improving the provision of healthful options.