CHILDREN'S Minister Frances Fitzgerald has warned parents not to feed junk food to their children to keep them quiet.
Her advice came after new figures showed one in four primary school children – around 30,000 – is overweight or obese from excessive calorie intake and lack of exercise.
Ms Fitzgerald said it was understandable that parents were tempted to give their children junk food so they would "sit down and watch the TV and keep quiet".
However, she added: "A lot of the parents who are giving children the incorrect food do so because they don't understand the consequences. The children who are obese are likely to become obese adults. You're condemning children by doing that to a lifetime of ill-health, and that's the truth."
Ms Fitzgerald cited the case of a child of 18 months who had to be weaned off crisps. "I have heard lots of stories of babies and young children getting completely inappropriate food," she said. Any parent giving an 18-month-old child crisps "has a huge educational issue", she added.
However, she was reluctant to blame only parents for the fact that 25pc of three-year-olds are overweight or obese.
She said there was a role for schools with their safe walking routes and for the State to provide more leisure facilities.
On the debate on how to discipline children, Ms Fitzgerald said she would not bring in a law to ban slapping.
She said it was not necessary because there had been a sea change in how parents disciplined children. "Few parents use physical punishment – and we have a law that says you can't assault a child," she said.