Public Health England is encouraging parents across the North West to choose 100 calorie snacks instead of unhealthier options and keep them to a maximum of just two a day.
Figures show that half of children’s sugar intake, currently around 7 sugar cubes a day comes from unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks, leading to obesity and dental decay.
Recent data show childhood obesity is at alarming rates. 23.9% of 4- to 5-year-olds are overweight or obese in the North West, increasing to 35.2% in 10- to 11-year-olds.
Each year children across England are consuming almost 400 biscuits, nearly 100 portions of sweets and more than 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink.
The new Change4Life campaign encourages parents in the North West to “Look for 100 calorie snacks, 2 a day max” to help them purchase healthier snacks than the ones they are currently.
Parents will be signposted and given special offers on a range of healthier snacks, including fruit and vegetables at selected supermarkets.
They can also get money-off vouchers to help them try healthier snack options, including malt loaf, lower sugar fromage frais, and drinks with no added sugar.
Many of the unhealthy snacks children consume regularly are high in sugar and also typically high in calories, for example:
An ice-cream contains around 175 calories
A packet of crisps contains around 190 calories
A chocolate bar contains around 200 calories
A pastry contains around 270 calories
The “100 calorie snacks, 2 a day max” tip applies to all snacks apart from fruit and vegetables, as children should also be encouraged to eat a variety of these to achieve their 5 A Day.
Steve Morton, from Public Health England North West, said:
“On average, children in England are consuming at least three unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks a day, with around a third consuming four or more. The overall result is that children consume three times more sugar than is recommended.
“Changing our children’s snacking habits can be a real challenge and we want to make it easier for families to find healthier options. By asking parents to Look for 100 calories snacks, two a day max, we’re helping them to give heathier snacks, while giving them less frequently.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “The true extent of children’s snacking habits is greater than the odd biscuit or chocolate bar. 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, two a day max.”
PHE’s improved Change4Life ‘Food Scanner’ app also shows parents how many calories, sugar, salt and saturated fat is in their food to help make healthier choices easier. It can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.
With a third of children leaving primary school overweight or obese4, tackling obesity requires wider action and is not just limited to individual efforts from parents. PHE is working with the food industry nationally to cut 20% of sugar from the products children consume most by 2020, with work to reduce calories due to start in 2018.