The UK government agency’s comments come after findings reveal half of children’s sugar intake, around 7 sugar cubes a day, comes from unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks.
On average, children are consuming at least three unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks a day, with around a third consuming four or more. Overall, sugar intake is around three times more than is recommended, Public Health England (PHE) noted.
“The true extent of children’s snacking habits is greater than the odd biscuit or chocolate bar,” said Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE 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, two a day max.”
PHE’s advice forms part of its Change4Life campaign that encourages parents to 'look for 100-calorie snacks, two a day max' to cut children’s sugar intake.
The campaign, which runs for the month of January, also offers parents money-off vouchers to help them switch to healthier snack options, including malt loaf, lower-sugar fromage frais, and drinks with no added sugar.
PHE has also developed a Change4Life ‘Food Scanner’ app that shows parents the calories, sugar, salt and saturated fat contained in food.
The public health push is being supported by Tesco. The retailer will include in-store point of sale promotional materials promoting healthier kids’ snacks featuring Change4Life branding. The snacks will include Pink Lady Apple Snack Packs, Goodness Strawberry Cereal bars and Tesco Pineapple Pieces in Juice 120g. Online, Tesco’s partnership with SpoonGuru will make it easier for customers to find 130 healthier snacks containing 100 calories or less, the retailer claimed.
“We know that our customers want us to help them eat more healthily and it can be particularly difficult to encourage children to eat healthy snacks,” said Matt Davies, Tesco’s CEO for UK and Republic of Ireland.
“By promoting a wide range of snacks, aligned with Public Health England’s campaign, we hope to make it easier for families to make a healthier start to the year. This is part of a wider programme to help our colleagues and customers stay healthy.”
Other UK supermarket chains such as the Co-op said they would also provide healthier snacking products, making it easier for customers to make healthier choices on the go.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar added that whilst parents had a responsibility to take control of their children’s snacking, so did food and drink manufacturers and the government.
"The findings need to be a stark reminder to the government that we urgently need a revised and robust childhood obesity strategy to help tackle the escalating obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemic.
“Tactics need to include mandatory product reformulation, clear front of pack colour coded labelling and a ban on promotions on foods and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar as well as tighter restrictions on marketing and advertising which hugely influence children’s food and drink preferences.
“It’s ludicrous that billions of pounds are being spent by food and drink manufacturers on such promotions and publicity which will simply outweigh the benefits of this campaign.”