GRANDPARENTS will be urged not to overindulge their grandchildren with treats as part of a new TV campaign to tackle childhood obesity.
The 'granny factor' is worrying health experts who see evidence of grandparents routinely "spoiling" youngsters with gifts, sweets or chocolate.
International research has shown that children minded by their grandparents are more likely to be overweight, in a link that holds up across all social classes.
And healthy eating body Safefood said that in its focus groups parents repeatedly raised concerns about grandparents giving too many treats to kids.
Now Safefood is planning to highlight the issue in a TV advertising campaign later this year.
It will advise against overdoing the treats, and urge parents to have a frank and open discussion regarding healthy eating aims with grandparents.
Safefood director of human health and nutrition Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan said the organisation wasn't blaming anyone for children's weight problems, but instead wanted to encourage what could be a delicate conversation between the generations.
"It was something that was repeatedly raised by parents as a concern in our focus groups," she said.
It had come up very frequently during research for their current anti-obesity campaign, which is aimed at encouraging families to eat more healthily and become more active.
Parents reported that grandparents often saw it as their role to "spoil" the children. They said it was a challenge to ask them to cut back, given sensitivities around the topic and the fact that parents often weren't present when treats were handed out.
Grandparents naturally enjoyed giving treats as they had grown up in an era when they were a much rarer occurrence, said Ms Foley-Nolan.
But nowadays children are given high fat and sugary foods everywhere they go, while getting fewer opportunities for outdoor play.
Safefood wants to encourage parents to discuss reasonable limits with grandparents and other minders in the same way you might try and avoid smoking around someone who was giving up.
"An element of indulgence is reasonable and healthy, but we'd encourage grandparents to also do other things – such as playing games with children, or cooking with them," she said.
Parents should also factor in treats given by grandparents and at friends' houses and make sure they weren't doubling up on these by giving children further treats at home the same day, she said.
Research published in the International Journal of Obesity found young children had a 34pc higher chance of being overweight if they were minded full-time by their grandparents.
That study analysed 12,000 three-year-olds in Britain and found that the risk of being overweight was 15pc higher if they were minded part-time by their grandparents. It found that the increased risk was most evident in children from more privileged backgrounds.
However, there was no increased risk of being overweight if they were minded in a creche.
One-in-four Irish children is already overweight or obese by the age of three, and this has very serious health implications later in life with increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Safefood has been running a hard-hitting campaign for the last six months to promote practical steps for parents to ensure their children maintain a healthy weight.
This includes giving them child-sized portions rather than adult ones, limiting treats and sugary drinks, reducing screentime to two hours a day, doing plenty of physical activity and getting enough sleep.