Childhood obesity: The food 'epidemic' harming our kids

A SNACKING epidemic is fuelling Australia's obesity problem, as small children never experience the feeling of hunger to help them learn how to regulate appetite.

Kids are being offered food at every turn, with many ­parents using convenient, energy-dense snacks as a means of pacifying them, accredited dietitian Kate Di Prima says.

"Children are being raised in coffee shops with their babyccinos and gigantic muffins, and mums often carry big selections of snacks in their handbags to help keep the little ones busy at the shops or in the car," she said.

The expert fears that mindless eating becomes a lifetime routine.

"It is true that toddlers have smaller stomachs and may struggle to get all their nutrients from three square meals, but unfortunately snacking is out of control," Ms Di Prima said.

"Toddlers will usually take in enough carbohydrates from their main meals, so a small morning or afternoon protein snack will do no harm.

"Sadly, many snacks that are pushed into kids' hands are ­carb-loaded, processed foods."

Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick, who has announced a $20 million commission to tackle obesity, said by 2026 there would be 300,000 overweight and obese children in the state, and the goal was to cut that by 10 per cent.

"Eating habits are formed early, so it is ­important for parents to understand the impact of non-stop grazing," Ms Di Prima said.

"Offer cheese and fruit at morning tea to sustain hunger until lunch. Try to avoid using food as a bribe or... keeping the child quiet."

Research from the University of North Carolina shows that in the late 1970s, the ­average two to six-year-old ate only one snack a day.

Mum Mary-Jane Phillips, from Clayfield, said she cut out carbohydrate treats in the afternoon for her three-year-old Don so he would eat his vegies at dinner.

Lale Rogeon, from South Maclean, said that processed foods were off the table for her son Largo, also three.

"I try to limit snacks, but Largo enjoys fruit," she said.

News Corp Australia

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