Quarter of toddlers overweight
A DIET with too many biscuits, soft drinks and confectionery is making one in four pre-school children overweight or obese.
A government-funded study, which examined the development of eating habits among pre-school children, has revealed 23pc of children between one and four years old are above the recommended weight for their age.
The study, which was funded by the Department of Agriculture and conducted by researchers from UCC and UCD, found children in this age group increase their intake of soft drinks and biscuits.
The researchers measured the weight and height of more than 500 Irish babies and compared their measurements with World Health Organisation Body Mass Index charts, which provide an optimal weight for children in this age group.
Overall, 77pc of Irish kids between two and four years old were classified as normal weight using the WHO criteria, but the remainder were considered overweight or obese.
Dr Anne Nugent, of UCD's Institute of Food and Health, said parents should monitor their child's weight and ensure they attend all their public health nurse appointments in the first four years of life.
She said the health implications, if any, of children being overweight between the age of one and four were currently unknown.
"We can not say for example that a child who is considered obese at two will be overweight (at an older age), but parents need to be vigilant," she said.
The report also found many Irish children are given processed meat instead of fresh meat, white bread rather than wholemeal, and fruit juice instead of whole fruit.
Salt intake by under fours is also too high, while they are not getting enough iron in their diet or vitamin D, which is essential for the development of healthy bones.
However, children in this age group are getting adequate fibre according to the study.
As well as the child's likes and dislikes, convenience and other people minding the child were blamed by six out of 10 parents for poor diet.
The authors of the report say new healthy eating guidelines are now needed for parents and carers of this age group.
They advise parents to watch their child's portion sizes, lower the amounts of salt and sugar in their diet, and encourage a higher intake of fruit and vegetables.