Typical child eating more than 16kgs of treat foods each year
FOODS such as biscuits, sweets and crisps are now an every-day staple of kids' diets, making up a fifth of their daily calorie intake.
As part of its campaign to take on childhood obesity, Safefood is urging parents to tackle the amount of "treat foods" that their children are eating.
"At present 20pc of children's daily calorie intake is from these foods with little or no nutritional value," it said.
The body estimated that on average a child typically consumes over 16kgs of treat foods per year - the equivalent of 140 small chocolate bars, 105 tubes of sweets, 36 packets of jam-filled biscuits and 118 bags of crisps. And this doesn't include foods like ice-cream, cakes, pastries and buns and puddings that a child would typically eat.
Figures show that approximately one-in-four primary school children is overweight or obese. The prevalence of excess weight is also beginning earlier in childhood, with 6pc of three-year-olds currently being obese.
"We are giving our children treat foods every day and in many cases several times a day. These nutritionally poor foods, which are often referred to as 'empty calories', are given at the expense of nutritionally-rich foods in our children's diets. Eating patterns developed in early childhood tend to last," said Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of human health and nutrition with Safefood.
"Parents need to be aware of the health risks associated with over-consumption of these types of foods. It's simply a matter of cutting down on treat foods to a more sensible level, basically much smaller amounts and not every day.
"One of the big things we are trying to get across is the difference between a snack and an indulgence. The difference has become blurred."
She suggested that fruit or a slice of toast, depending on the age of the child, is suitable if they are hungry.
In addition, quantities are another big issue for parents to cut down on, according to Dr Foley-Nolan.
"The other thing we are saying is in general not to have a 'treats' cupboard at home.
"If it is there, you are tempted, they are tempted," she added. "Treats should be a luxury."
Meanwhile, in relation to meal size and quantity, she said: "If you look at a plate of food, a good third should be vegetables, a third should be the starchy food, whether rice, pasta and potatoes, and a third should be the meat or fish."
John Sharry, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at UCD, added: "Parents want what's best for their children and no one wants to take the fun out of childhood. But we've reached a point where these so-called 'treat' foods are consumed far too frequently and just aren't treats any more.
"As parents, we've lost the ability to say 'no' to our children and we need to re-learn that setting these clear boundaries is an important step in our children's well-being and development."
The Safefood campaign will feature on tv and poster advertisements.