As part of its campaign to take on childhood obesity, safefood has identified portion size as a key issue in preventing children becoming overweight and is urging parents to give children child-sized portions. The message is clear that how much children eat as well as what they eat is very important; recent studies have found that children aged over two ate up to 40% more food when bigger portion sizes were made available to them.
Commenting Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said: “It’s well established that for adults, we eat more food and consume more calories when we’re given bigger portions and we now recognise that this goes for children as well. There has also been a significant increase in food portion sizes over the past 20 years, this all contributes to more of our children nowadays carrying excess weight. What’s also interesting is that young children up to the age of two have good appetite control and only eat what they need, but older children lose this ability to know when they’re full.”
Research has shown that food portion sizes have significantly increased over the past 20 years, particularly among baked foods like scones, croissants and danishes as well as takeaway foods; some takeaway food portion sizes are now 180% bigger compared to the late 1990s.
Dr Sinead Murphy, Consultant Paediatrician and Clinical Lead for the W82GO Healthy Lifestyles programme at Temple Street Children’s Hospital, continued: “Surprisingly we are finding on our programmes that more than half the children who are presenting as seriously overweight are in fact eating what we would consider ‘healthy food’ but just far too much of it. We also know that the parents may feel they are doing the right thing for their children by filling them up with ‘good food’ when in fact they’re creating problems for them now and in later life. "It’s important to encourage children to recognise when they are full and to allow them not to eat any more when they feel full - most parents will go with this with sweet treats but not when it comes to other foods. This message from the campaign is critical and parents need to be aware that children only need child-sized portions of all foods and any more is doing them harm in the long-term.’
“Children don’t need the same amount of food as adults do”, added Dr Foley-Nolan. “For example, a five year old needs about half the food an adult does. Parents can manage portions by being aware and using some techniques e.g. using smaller child-sized plates at mealtimes and giving a smaller portion to begin with – if children are still hungry, then give a little bit more.”
“We know that any change to habits can be a challenge and we all want to nourish and nurture our children but giving them the right amount of all foods is key to their health. We have lots of practical advice and tools on appropriate portion sizes for meals and for snacks on our website safefood.eu and how to make these healthier changes as a family”, added Dr Foley-Nolan.