Parents making positive changes to children’s diet and physical activity habits

  • Consumption of water by children at mealtimes - up 7%
  • Daily consumption of fizzy drinks by children - down 5%
  • More age-appropriate portion sizes being served to children - up 4%
  • Children getting an hour’s physical activity a day - up 6%

30 March, 2015. New research¹ published today by safefood has revealed that parents are making positive and practical changes to their children’s diets and physical activity levels in an effort to reduce childhood obesity. The research also revealed a significant increase in awareness by parents that excess weight in childhood is associated with poorer health in later life (up 6%). The research was carried out to coincide with the first year of safefood’s three year campaign to tackle the everyday habits which can lead to childhood obesity.

Other findings of the research included a significant reduction in the number of parents giving treat foods to children every day (down 9%) and an increase in the number of parents open to discussing the issue of weight if they needed to (up 7%).

Welcoming the findings. Minister Varadkar said:

It's really heartening to see that families are paying closer attention to their children’s diet and physical activity. Childhood obesity is one of the biggest risks to this nation’s future health. It looks like families are increasingly conscious of how even small changes to children's diet and physical activity can make a big difference. I want to commend everyone who has made those small but significant changes to their diets and lifestyles.”

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood continued: “Parents are making concrete efforts to develop everyday habits associated with a healthy weight in childhood. While it’s really encouraging and heartening to see that parents report making these practical changes, it’s much too early to say that we’ve won the battle against childhood obesity. As a society we didn’t reach this child weight crisis overnight nor will it be solved in one year but these results highlight that our campaign messages have really resonated with parents. It’s not easy to cut down on sugary foods when children have become used to overindulging but parents are making really important changes; it’s vital now to keep up this positive momentum for the health of our children.”

At present, approximately 1 in 4 primary school children are overweight or obese². The prevalence of excess weight is also beginning earlier in childhood, with 6% of 3 year olds currently being obese³.

Dr Cate Hartigan, Head of Health Promotion and Improvement, HSE said “The HSE is very pleased to welcome these results, which clearly show that the trend towards unhealthy weight gain among children can be addressed in the home. Parents are the first and most important teachers of their children, and will do all in their power to give them the best start in life. This campaign helps answer the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ for parents and helps them make sense of what is a complex problem of modern day living”.

Ms Kate O’Flaherty, Director of Health and Wellbeing, Department of Health added "It's heartening to see that parents are finding the supportive advice provided by the campaign helpful in their efforts to improve their children's health and wellbeing, and giving them confidence to make changes in their family's habits around food and exercise. These changes, however small to start with, can have a big impact on the future health of children, with potential benefits for life. Healthy Ireland will continue to support parents and families to make these healthier choices easier for them, and continue to drive the culture change needed to ensure that all children and families can improve their health and wellbeing"

The three year, all island campaign to take on childhood obesity by safefood in partnership with the HSE and Healthy Ireland Framework in the Republic of Ireland and the ‘Fitter Futures for All’ Implementation Plan in Northern Ireland, urges parents to make practical changes to everyday lifestyle habits which would make a big difference to their children’s future health.

To find out more about the safefood campaign including how-to videos from health experts and practical advice for parents, visit: 

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For further information please contact

WHPR: Amy Pilgrim/Muireann Kirby 01 6690030 / 086 3710000 (MK)

safefood: Fiona Gilligan 087 989 1682 / Julie Carroll 086 601 6005

Editor’s notes




Consumption of water by children at mealtimes:



Consumption of fizzy drinks by children once a day or more



Serving more age appropriate portion sizes to children



Children getting at least an hour’s physical activity a day



Increase in parental awareness of long-term consequences of excess weight in childhood





Parents giving their child a treat food at least once a day



Parents confidence in discussing weight with their children if needed





Millward Brown/safefood 2015. Face to face survey of 919 parents with children aged under 12 on the island of Ireland.

The messages being promoted by the safefood campaign are:

  • Give child size portions to children, not adult sized ones
  • Reduce ‘Treat’ foods – small amounts and not every day
  • Allow plenty of Sleep for healthy growth and development
  • Reduce Screen time to a max of 2 hours day
  • Be more physically Activity 60 minutes plus every day
  • ·Give less Sugary drinks and more water


¹ Millward Brown Lansdowne/safefood 2015

² Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (IUNA) Nutrition Surveys (2005); (2012)

³ National Pre-School Nutrition Survey (2012)