New research reveals children eat more foods like biscuits, crisps and sweets than any other food group


New research in support of the START campaign has revealed that children are eating more foods like biscuits, crisps and sweets than any other food group. Almost 25% of all meals now include food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar that are not recommended as part of a healthy diet. The research also found that 29% of children’s afternoon and evening snacks are foods high in fat, sugar and salt.


Sarah O’ Brien, HSE national lead on the START campaign says “What we hear from parents is that they recognise how important it is to make changes for their children’s health but it is challenging.  Research for the START campaign also found that 1 in 3 parents (33%) found it difficult to cut back on treat foods or keep them to a minimum. More than 1 in 3 parents (36%) also reported they were not confident about changing their child’s behaviour when it came to eating more healthily.


The START campaign is designed to help parents by providing practical tips, advice and support.  The campaign partners – safefood, HSE and Healthy Ireland – know that parents also need support from the wider environment.  Through Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan we are working to ensure schools, communities, workplaces as well as the food and drinks industry play their part in supporting parents to make healthier lifestyle choices for their families”.


Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said “The stand-out result in this research is how so-called ‘junk’ food is now a filler between and after meals in families’ daily diets. Parents involved in the research told us that afternoons and evenings are the danger times when it comes to giving these foods to their children and to themselves.”


“Parents want their children to feel cared for and not to be hungry when they get in from school or before dinner is ready. These ‘junk’ foods, which are full of empty calories, fill that gap and are now a staple in our weekly shop and our children’s daily diets. We struggle to avoid these treat foods every day because they’re available everywhere, highly palatable cheap and frequently on special offer.”


The START campaign from safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland is encouraging parents to give healthier snacks to children and to only have treats in small amounts, and not very day.  Agreeing to changes together as family and having a ‘no-junk-during-weekdays’ plan are also ideas for families to try to cut down on treat foods.


To find out more information to help you and your family or families you are in contact with through your work, visit the START website



You can also find START leaflets and posters, free to order, on There are some new posters in A3 and A4 formats encouraging families to spend time playing together since we were last in touch. Log in as a professional and type “START” into the “Search by keyword” box.


Please feel free to get in touch if you have any queries on the START campaign.


Best wishes,


Sarah O’Brien

National Lead: Healthy Eating and Active Living Programme