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Parents urged to cut kids' snacking

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
child holding ice cream cone

2nd January 2018 – Parents should limit their children to 2 snacks a day of no more than 100 calories each to cut their sugar intake and help tackle obesity and dental decay, says a health body.

Half of children's sugar intake – the equivalent of around 7 cubes of sugar a day – comes from unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks, figures reveal.

As a result, Public Health England (PHE) is launching a campaign to persuade parents to choose healthier alternatives and limit the calories they contain.

Crisps, chocolate and ice creams

A 100-calorie limit to each snack would rule out some of the most popular choices for children. These include:

  • An ice-cream (around 175 calories)
  • A pack of crisps (around 190 calories)
  • A chocolate bar (around 200 calories)
  • A pastry (around 270 calories)

On average, children are consuming at least 3 unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks a day, with around a third consuming 4 or more, according to PHE. The overall result is that children have 3 times more sugar in their diet than is recommended.

The Change4Life campaign will offer parents money-off vouchers that can be redeemed at selected supermarkets for healthier, low-calorie snacks. These include, malt loaf, lower-sugar fromage frais, and drinks with no added sugar.

Parents 'are concerned'

"The true extent of childrens's snacking habits is greater than the odd biscuit or chocolate bar," says Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE's chief nutritionist. "Children are having unhealthy snacks throughout the day and parents have told us they're concerned.

"To make it easier for busy families, we've developed a simple rule of thumb to help them move towards healthier snacking – look for 100 calories snacks, 2 a day max."

The guidelines do not apply to fruit and vegetables as children should be encouraged to eat a wide variety of these to achieve their '5-a day', says PHE.

Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, describes the campaign as beneficial but doubts it will curb obesity rates. "We need the Government to show it is serious about tackling obesity by urgently updating and expanding the Childhood Obesity Plan," he says in a statement.

"We also need to create healthier environments by preventing new fast food restaurants opening within close proximity to schools and colleges – we cannot expect children to make healthier food choices when there are temping cheap treats lurking close to school."

Call for mandatory sugar targets

Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance, comments: "When it comes to sugar, it's all too easy to eat more than is good for us. This is particularly true when everyday foods are loaded with sugar and this is contributing to our very high levels of childhood obesity.

"We need all sectors of the food industry to reduce sugar and overall calories in their products to help us all make healthier choices."

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