safefood tackles treats to protect children's health in the future

safefood launch major campaign to help parents make healthier food choices for their children

21 November, 2005. A new campaign developed by safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board, has been launched to encourage parents to reduce the amount of treat foods in their child’s diet to prevent long-term health problems for their children.

According to the National Children’s Nutrition Survey, conducted by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, 20% of boys are either overweight or obese and 23% of girls are overweight or obese. Excessive body weight is linked to the development of heart disease and diabetes. Figures from the Diabetes Federation of Ireland show that the incidence of diabetes in children in Ireland has risen dramatically in recent years, rising from 1445 cases in 2001 to 2224 cases in 2003, a 55% rise in two years.

The National Survey also revealed that almost 20% of the calories in children’s diets come from treat foods. Treat foods can be high in fat, especially saturated fat, which can be detrimental to children’s heart health in the long-term.

“At the moment, children are eating, on average, around twice as many treat foods as they should be. We want parents in particular to reduce the intake of unhealthy fats in children’s diets by reducing the number of unhealthy treats they are eating”, said Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Chief Public Health Specialist, safefood. “It is crucial that parents realise that treat foods tend to contain very few nutrients other than calories, fat or sugar. In order to protect their child’s health now and in adulthood, there is a need to reduce these foods in their child’s diet and replace them with more nutritious foods.”

Also speaking about the new campaign, Martin Higgins, Chief Executive Officer, safefood said, “Parents need to be aware of the health risks associated with a diet high in fat, especially saturated fat. A major source of saturated fat comes from treat foods such as chocolate, biscuits and cakes. We are not saying that parents should cut treats out of the diet altogether. We are simply encouraging parents to treat treats as treats. By reducing the quantity of treat foods given to children, parents will be taking the first step towards improving their child’s health in the long-term”.


Andrew Hyland       
Or Aileen McGloin
Tel: 01 6690030      


Fiona Gilligan
Tel: 01 4480060

Editor’s notes

  •  Treat foods include chocolate, crisps, sweets, cakes, biscuits and pastries.

Results of the National Children’s Survey of 5-12y olds in ROI. (IUNA, 2005).

  • Cakes, biscuits, savoury snacks, chocolate and confectionary contribute 18% of children’s energy (calorie) intake and 21% of their total fat intake
  • 40% children have dietary fat intake above the current recommendations
  • 8% boys are classified as obese and 12% overweight. 14% girls are classified as obese and 9% overweight
  • A large percentage of boys and girls not getting enough vitamins and minerals in their diets i.e. undernourished 
  • 28% boys and 37% girls are not getting enough calcium in their diets. Calcium is especially important for a growing child to build strong teeth and bones. 
  • 34% girls are not getting enough iron in their diets. Iron is very important for physical and mental development. A lack of iron i.e. anaemia can led to lack of energy and poor concentration. 

Health Behaviour in school aged children (2002). Department of Health and Children.

  • 30% Irish children (aged 10-11y) drink soft drinks every day 
  • 53% Irish children (aged 10-11y) eat sweets everyday
  • 20% Irish children (aged 10-11y) do not eat breakfast on school days

Diabetes Federation of Ireland (2005)

  • The incidence of diabetes in children in Ireland has risen dramatically in recent years, rising from 1445 cases in 2001 to 2224 cases in 2003, a 55% rise in two years. 
  • Sixty two of these cases were type-two diabetes, which is usually found in older people.  
  • Type 2 diabetes is commonly found among the older population. However, it is becoming increasingly common in younger people, including adolescents, mainly due to lifestyle factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise and rising obesity levels.