Over a quarter of Northern Ireland children overweight or obese, study warns – Belfast Telegraph


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Junk food addiction ‘exacerbated by pandemic and cost-of-living crisis’
Footballer Marissa Callaghan, who is supporting the Start campaign, with son Quinn
Marissa Callaghan
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More than a quarter of children in Northern Ireland are overweight, research has revealed.
Almost a fifth (19%) of pre-school youngsters’ daily diet consists of unhealthy treats such as crisps, the study found.
It also discovered that 20% of children aged two to 15 years old were overweight, with a further 6% categorised as obese.
It was further found that a child’s daily calorie intake from unhealthy treats increased as they aged, with a quarter of primary school children’s daily diet consisting of foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt.
Covid has added to the problem, with 47% of parents saying their children ate more unhealthily during the pandemic.
The cost-of-living crisis has also had an impact, with mum and dads now looking for cheaper ways to make sure their kids have something to eat.
The research was carried out in May as part of the healthy eating Start campaign from Safefood, the Public Health Agency and the Department of Health.
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Northern Ireland’s women’s football team captain and mum-of-one Marissa Callaghan has thrown her support behind the initiative.
“It helps provide parents with practical ways of helping us reduce the number of treats we give our children,” she said.
“It’s not about trying to be perfect; it’s about giving us the necessary advice to make better choices and to introduce healthier options to get that right balance for the whole family.
“As a mum, I want to make sure my young son, Quinn, is eating a healthy, balanced diet.
“The occasional treat is fine for our kids, but you can also swap these for healthier options like more fruit and snacks that are low in fat, salt and sugar.
“This will be different for every family, but it is about finding what works best for you and working together as a team to reach your goals.”
Safefood director of nutrition Dr Aileen McGloin echoed the footballer’s comments.
“We know that snacks play an important role in children’s diets, particularly so for younger children,” she said.
“However, this research shows that children are getting too many snacks from unhealthy foods like biscuits, crisps, chocolate, and sweets.
“We want to support parents to rethink their children’s snacks, both in terms of what they buy and what they give. Offering healthier snacks, particularly during after-school times, would be a good place to start.
“From listening to parents, we know this is a really challenging because treats are readily available and so cheap.
“The cost-of-living crisis makes this even more challenging, but healthy snacks can be inexpensive, quick and easy.
“Snack ideas to offer include crackers and cheese instead of chocolate biscuits, or plain popcorn or breadsticks instead of crisps, or for straight after school, a low-fat yogurt or fruit instead of a chocolate bar.”
Dr McGloin advised parents to go easy on treats during the week and ask relatives to follow their example.
“All families have different circumstances, so it’s about choosing what works for you and your children, making a start and sticking with it,” she said.
“We have lots of practical help and support for parents on MakeAStart.org, including healthy snack ideas and videos on how to make small changes that will make a big difference.”
Child and adolescent psychotherapist Dr Colman Noctor said the research underlined the need for action.
He added: “The key is to make gradual and progressive small changes. If your children have two treats a day, aim to reduce that to one treat a day on weekdays and two at the weekend.
“Once this has been achieved, it will provide parents with the confidence to continue introducing healthier diet options.”

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