START campaign encourages parents to start tackling treats by swapping them for healthier after-school and evening snacks

HSE Press Release: 14th May 2019 

New research¹ in support of the START campaign has revealed that foods like biscuits, crisps, chocolate and sweets are the second-most consumed food group by children. Almost 25% of all meals now include food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) that are not recommended as part of a healthy diet. The research also found that 29% of children’s afternoon and evening snacks are foods high in fat, sugar and salt.


Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said “The stand-out result in this research is how so-called ‘junk’ food is now a filler between and after meals in families’ daily diets. Parents involved in the research told us that afternoons and evenings are the danger times when it comes to giving these foods to their children and to themselves.”


“Parents want their children to feel cared for and not to be hungry when they get in from school or before dinner is ready. These ‘junk’ foods, which are full of empty calories, fill that gap and are now a staple in our weekly shop and our children’s daily diets. We struggle to avoid these treat foods every day because they’re available everywhere, highly palatable, cheap and frequently on special offer.”


The START campaign from safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland is encouraging parents to give healthier snacks to children and to only have treats in small amounts, and not every day.  Agreeing to changes together as family and having a ‘no-junk-during-weekdays’ plan are also ideas for families to try to cut down on treat foods.


Sarah O’ Brien, HSE national lead on the START campaign added: “What we hear from parents is that they recognise how important it is to make these changes for their children’s health but it is challenging. The START campaign is designed to help parents by providing practical tips, advice and support.  The campaign partners - safefood, HSE and Healthy Ireland - know that parents also need support from the wider environment.  Through the Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan we are working to ensure schools, communities, workplaces as well as the food and drinks industry play their part in supporting parents to make healthier lifestyle choices for their families”.


Recent research* for the START campaign highlighted that 1 in 3 parents (33%) found it difficult to cut back on treat foods or keep them to a minimum. More than 1 in 3 parents (36%) also reported they were not confident about changing their child’s behaviour when it came to eating more healthily.


The START campaign is a five-year public health awareness campaign from safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland. The campaign is encouraging families to take the first step towards a healthier lifestyle for their children by supporting them to achieve one daily win, and to persist with the changes, no matter how difficult they become. To find out more about the START campaign and ways to make a healthy, positive start visit

Start Food Pyramid

Last updated on: 13 / 05 / 2019