Children know unhealthy foods before ABCs

Children see around 1,000 ads for unhealthy food every year and can identify unhealthy food brands before they can say their ABCs, Safefood’s Director of Nutrition Dr Aileen McGloin has said.

Safefood is launching a new five-year public health campaign aimed at tackling obesity and protecting children’s health.

Unhealthy foods have encroached on all areas that children go – including leisure centres and soft ball areas, Dr McGloin said.

“Children see about 1,000 ads for unhealthy food every year. And even before they know their ABCs, young children can identify unhealthy food brands,” she said.

Despite the introduction of a number of strong policies over the past few years, including the sugar tax, rates of obesity remain high and one in five children are obese, she added.

“Protection of children is at the centre of this. If children go into a soft play area, if they go into a leisure centre, if they go into a swimming pool, the unhealthy foods have encroached on all these spaces… As a parent, you’re faced with that vending machine.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr McGloin said this means that everything will have to be strengthened over the next five years.

Around 35% of offers in supermarkets are for unhealthy foods, which jumps to 53% of offers in convenience shops, she said, adding that a situation had evolved where it was almost impossible for someone to make a healthy food decision.

Dr McGloin said that she would like legislation banning unhealthy foods from being place in prominent areas, similar to that introduced in the UK, to be brought in here.

This would help change behaviours, she explained, while restaurants should have healthy options for children as a standard.

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