Research reveals eight in ten parents recognise their eating habits influence their children’s

Parents can take little steps to tackle obesity

Monday, 29 March 2010. Research conducted for the ‘Little Steps’ campaign, reveals that eight in ten parents recognise the influence their eating habits have on their children (1). The research also revealed that one in three say they have reduced the amount of treats including cakes, crisps, chocolate and biscuits in their household food shopping in the past six months (1).

One in four children on the island of Ireland is overweight or obese (2, 3). ‘Little Steps’ is a HSE and safefood campaign which encourages parents to make small changes to improve their children’s diet and increase their levels of physical activity. Parents are role models for their children, so if parents make positive changes in their eating habits and physical activity levels, it is likely that their children will do the same.

Compared with 2008, the research for the campaign has shown that the message is getting through to parents, with an increase in the number aware of the influence of their eating habits on their children (1).

Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health and Nutrition, safefood said, “It is a cause for optimism that so many people are reporting reducing the number of fatty and sugary treat foods in their shopping trolley. Small changes like this can have a significant impact on a family’s health. We all lead busy lives so making time to eat healthily is a challenge, but some planning of meals and shopping can make healthy eating part of the daily routine. The research also revealed that while cost is a barrier to healthy eating, for some people, there was a recognition that by shopping around and being organised it is possible to eat healthily on a tight budget.”

Catherine Murphy, Assistant National Director, Health Promotion, Health Service Executive said, “The fact that parents are recognising the impact of their behaviour on their children is positive. We are hoping this will translate into behaviour changes, where parents introduce small changes into their family’s activity levels such as reducing TV time and taking a trip to the park instead. ‘Little Steps’ like these are easy to introduce into a family routine and most of the steps can be followed without having to spend money on days out.”

The research also revealed that a lack of time or ‘busy lifestyle’ is the biggest barrier to healthy eating for almost one in three people (1). Focus group research carried out for HSE and safefood revealed that some parents struggle to find time to ensure their children are taking enough physical activity (4). One in ten people said healthy food is too expensive (1), and the focus groups also revealed that the cost of undertaking ‘structured’ activities with their children was too high for many parents (4).

Children need to be active for at least 60 minutes per day and the Health Behaviours in School Children survey revealed over half of primary school age children in ROI did not achieve the recommended level of physical activity (5). In Northern Ireland, less than a quarter (24%) of 8-12 year olds surveyed take part in the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

HSE and safefood have developed a ‘Little Steps’ leaflet with ideas for how parents can make practical changes that don’t take a lot of time or money. The leaflet is a useful guide for parents to help families to take the first steps towards a healthier lifestyle together, and includes tips on how parents can make small changes and introduce healthier habits. Examples of small changes could be swapping king size or standard sized treats for snack sizes, or swapping playing computer games with a family trip to the park.

Lots of simple ‘Little Steps’ including shopping, cooking, healthy eating and physical activity tips and ideas are also available from the website

A supporting radio advertising campaign for ‘Little Steps’ will air from today, Monday 29th March 2010.

For more information on the ‘Little Steps’ campaign and leaflet, visit or, or contact the safefood helpline on 1850 40 4567 (ROI) / 0800 0851683 (NI) or HSE Info-line on 1850 24 1850.


For further information please contact:

Cliodhna Lamont/Kate FitzGerald, WHPR
P: 01 6690030 / 087 9250874 (CL) / 086 3873083 (KF)

E: /

Or HSE Press Office P: 01 6352840 E:


  1. safetrak research conducted across island of Ireland, 23 November - 8 December 2009 by Millward Brown Lansdowne. Representative sample of 804 people aged 15 – 74 years. (86% of parents on the island of Ireland in 2009 thought their eating habits influenced the eating habits of their child compared with 78% in 2008)
  2. Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, 2008.
  3. NI Health and Wellbeing Survey 2005/2006
  4. HSE/safefood Focus Group research (Millward Brown Lansdowne) across island of Ireland. Five focus groups conducted between 12-17 November 2009.
  5. Health Behaviours in School Children (HBSC, 2006)
  6. Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland. Children’s Health: A Study of Eating Habits, Physical Activity and Obesity Levels in Primary school Children, 2005.

Editor’s Notes

Additional Research

  • In Ireland, 38% of adults are overweight and 23% are certified as obese (Slan 2007, Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition in Ireland - Dietary Habits of the Irish Population)
  • Over 300,000 children in Ireland are overweight or obese (DOHC website)
  • The World Health Organisation has estimated that over 700 million people will be obese by 2015.