Two out of five parents give their children sugar-rich and fattening foods like chocolate, sweets and crisps at least once a day, researchers have warned.
As the third year of a healthy eating campaign draws to a close, campaigners urged mothers and fathers to redouble their efforts to break habits that lead to childhood obesity.
Safefood said its cross-border research found 73% of parents did not consider giving crisps, chocolates and sweets on a daily basis as “treats”.
It said children aged five and under were given the most, with half getting a treat “at least once a day or more”.
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of the agency’s human health and nutrition division, said the increasing number of parents giving their youngsters fattening foods was the stand-out disappointing result.
“Parents are really finding this difficult and these products are simply empty calories,” she said.
“Over-consumption of these treats, and there is major over-consumption, is a serious threat to our children’s future health. As parents, we need to break the bad habits of giving these every day as it’s now become the norm and not really a treat any more.”
Parents taking part in the Safefood research in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland readily admit that they use sweets and the like to bribe their youngsters to ease difficult situations or secure a bit of peace and quiet.
They also said they felt uneasy about using treats and were reportedly surprised that crisps and biscuits are classed this way.
Dr Foley-Nolan said they have become daily staples in the home after school or dinner but some are making efforts to restrict the times they give treats or the size of the treat.
“Parents say that it’s not easy to cut down on these treats especially when they are everywhere, are so cheap and children are used to overindulging in them,” she said.