Half of children eating more junk food since pandemic began – study

Safefood seeking to help families get back to healthier habits as society opens back up

Almost half of Ireland’s children have been comfort-eating through the Covid crisis, and increasingly stressed-out parents are struggling to wean them off the biscuit tin, according to a new report from the State’s food safety watchdog.

The Safefood research, published on Thursday morning, reveals that almost 50 per cent of parents and guardians say their children have been eating more treats since the start of the pandemic, while a similar percentage are finding it difficult to ration treats.

Biscuits, crisps, chocolate and sweets are the second-most-consumed food group by children, with almost a quarter of all meals featuring food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar. Safefood said parents should ease back on the treats.

However, a spokeswoman said it was “completely understandable, given the year we have all had to get through”, that more junk food was being consumed, and she stressed that Safefood was not trying to make anyone feel guilty.

It has launched a new campaign, in conjunction with the HSE, which focuses on the “critical moment” when a child asks for a treat, and is offering support to parents taking a stand in saying no in order to restart their kids on the way to healthier habits.

Make a plan

"This past year has not been easy for parents and has had a significant impact on what we eat and how active we are as families," said Safefood nutrition specialist Joana Da Silva." We know that physical lockdowns, home-schooling and a lack of social contact have all contributed to this situation. But as measures are slowly eased, it brings the hope that parents can restart those healthy habits at home."

She said parents need a plan, “which will be different for every family; for those who might have treats every day, this might mean aiming for a treat-free day; or giving treats a break at one part of the day, for example after school. Once parents have set a goal, they’ll need to agree this with all the family. Everybody has to be in this together if it’s going to work.”

Margaret O’Neill of the HSE accepted that breaking the treat habit would be a “daily challenge for a while” but expressed confidence that “once the break is made, it will get easier. Making small, gradual changes and taking breaks from treats will help you succeed in making healthy snacking become the norm at home.”