Northern Ireland

Children in Northern Ireland are ‘bombarded’ with unhealthy food brands

In a new campaign against childhood obesity, Safefood say children can identify unhealthy food brands before their ABCs

Health campaigners have urged parents to redouble their efforts to break habits that lead to childhood obesity
Unhealthy snacks at checkouts and relentless online advertising are making it harder for children to eat healthily, a food safety body has warned.

Children in Northern Ireland are being “bombarded” with unhealthy brands, a food safety body has warned.

As part of a new five-year strategy to tackle childhood obesity, Safefood said children were able to identify unhealthy food brands before their ABCs.

It was estimated that two-thirds (63%) of children could identify brands before they could read and write, and one-in-four children in Northern Ireland were currently overweight or obese.

Safefood add that food-related ill-health is the leading cause of preventable illness in the developing world, and overweight children are at a “significantly increased” risk of developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many cancers in adulthood.

Another factor is the psychological and social toll on children due to weight stigmatisation, while the estimated lifetime cost of childhood obesity in Northern Ireland was measured at £2.1bn, or £18,797 per person.

Safefood is now seeking to confront “the harsh reality of our food environment” and demand action to protect children’s health.

As well as tackling the “overwhelming variety” of unhealthy options, the campaign will also highlight the marketing tactics that promote high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt foods in children’s everyday lives.

Dr. Aileen McGloin, Director of Nutrition with Safefood, commented: “Children see about 1,000 ads for unhealthy foods every year, and before they know their ABCs, young children can identify these brands.

“If we stop and look around at our environment, we see how much unhealthy food and drink surrounds us.

“Our new TV ad shows how overwhelming this is from a child’s eye view. We’re bombarded with advertising and never-ending price promotions for foods high in fat, sugar, or salt, and fizzy drinks. It’s there when paying for petrol or buying a tin of paint. Expecting any of us to make healthier choices is nearly impossible when faced with this relentless sales push.”

Dr Gary A. Kearney, Chief Executive, Safefood said the campaign moved away from personal responsibility towards a broader societal response.

“It is very difficult to make healthy food choices when faced with constant advertising and marketing, and the availability of cheap, unhealthy foods at every turn,” he said.

“Rates of overweight and obesity remain high, and a different and inclusive approach is now required for society.

Further information on the campaign is available online at