Processed and junk foods make up half of many children’s daily energy intake, Adelaide researchers have found.
University of Adelaide health researchers tracked the food consumption of 430 children aged nine and 10 over six months.
“Children obtained nearly half of their daily energy intake from discretionary foods, which people would know as junk foods – often high in fats, salt and sugar,” researcher Melissa Whitrow said.
“We’re talking about processed foods like takeaway foods, snacks that you might see in a kid’s lunchbox, and those convenient foods that are heavily processed in a factory before they get to you.
“[Children] had a lot of trouble meeting the guidelines for each of the five food groups outlined in the Australian guide to healthy eating.”
Dr Whitrow said the unhealthy diets could lead to obesity and other health concerns in adulthood.
The study found that 91 per cent of children ate too few vegetables and 99.8 per cent fell short of the recommended daily servings of non-processed meat and other proteins.
Salt, dairy intakes of concern
About 80 per cent of children ate too much salt, the study found, and about the same percentage of girls had too little dairy food, considered important for bone health.
Dr Whitrow said the blame did not fall on parents alone.
“It’s really hard to meet these sorts of guidelines and to give your child a healthy diet all the time,” she said.
“Children are exposed to advertising, they’re exposed to peer pressure, parents are time-poor.
“I think we need to take a step back and look at what we can do as a community to support parents.”
As a first step, she said children could have at least one processed food in their lunchbox replaced with a healthier option, and be served more vegetables at the dinner table.