Irish people spend more money on junk food than they do on fresh fruits and vegetables, according to a new survey.
Almost one fifth (19pc) of the average weekly family food shop is spent on highly processed “treat” foods like crisps, chocolates and sweets, Safefood has found.
While only 10pc is spent on fruit, and 9pc goes on vegetables.
Last year, Irish families with children spent €1,037 on treat foods.
Around €521 was spent on fruits, and €346 on vegetables.
Safefood says its research only includes supermarket shopping trips and doesn’t account for purchases in outlets such as garage forecourts, cafes, cinemas etc.
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Safefood’s director of human health and nutrition said: “These foods which are full of empty calories are now a staple in our weekly shop. We accept them as the norm in our children’s daily diet and they are not seen as a real treat any more.”
“The balance is all wrong and we’re under-consuming the vital nutrients in fruit and vegetables.”
“Undoubtedly this level of consumption by families is contributing to our dangerous levels of overweight, type 2 diabetes and cancer.”
“These highly processed foods are everywhere, at all times of the year and are so cheap – it’s no wonder that we are finding it difficult to not overindulge our children and ourselves.”
“Regarding being healthy as a family, 40pc of parents cited trying to cut back on sweets, ice-cream etc. as the number one barrier to healthy eating.”
Safefood, the HSE, and Healthy Ireland are working on a five-year public health awareness campaign called START, which is focusing on seven key lifestyle habits.
These are: minimise intake of foods high in fat, salt and sugar; establish water and milk as routine drinks; give appropriate child-sized portions to children; include more fruit and vegetables across the week; increase physical activity levels; limit screen time; and increase sleep time.
Minister for State Catherine Byrne TD commented “This research confirms the need for parents and all those who care for children to work together to improve children’s eating habits.”
“Not only are these so-called treat foods and drinks mostly high in fat, sugar and salt and contribute to overweight and obesity but equally important is the fact that if children fill up on these foods, they don’t have an appetite for the nutritious foods they need for good health and wellbeing.”
“The healthy eating message from Healthy Ireland is that these foods should not be every day foods but maximum once or twice a week foods and in small amounts. Eating vegetables, fruit and salads are healthier choices and lay down the foundation of good eating habits for life. This campaign is by parents and for parents, and the motto is try and try again – parenting is tough but we know parents are tougher.”
Sarah O’Brien, HSE national lead on the START campaign added: “We all love to treat our children or grandchildren. And many of us do it with these types of snacks and sugary foods knowing in our hearts that it would be better not to.”
“Our research with parents shows that almost half (49pc) give treat foods at weekends, and of these more than one in four (27pc) use them as reward during the week. But on a very positive note it also shows that almost half of us parents have tried to change our children’s eating habits and better again 88pc of us have persisted with that change. So when it comes to treat foods together we can make that change and ensure our families lead healthier lives.”