Parents are being urged to give their children child-sized portions at mealtimes.
According to Safefood, there has been a major increase in food portion sizes over the last two decades and this is a key contributor to obesity rates among children.
"It's well established that for adults, we eat more food and consume more calories when we're given bigger portions and we now recognise that this goes for children as well.
"What's interesting is that young children up to the age of two have good appetite control and only eat what they need, but older children lose this ability to know when they're full," explained Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan of Safefood, which has been running on ongoing campaign to tackle obesity among children.
Research suggests that children over the age of two consume up to 40% more food when bigger portions are given to them and portion sizes have increased over the last 20 years, especially among baked goods such as scones and croissants, and takeaway foods. In fact, takeaway food portions are currently 180% bigger than they were in the late 1990s.
According to Dr Sinead Murphy, a consultant paediatrician in Temple Street Children's Hospital, over half of children presenting to the hospital as seriously overweight are actually eating what would be considered ‘healthy food', but they are simply eating too much.
"We know that parents may feel they are doing the right thing for their children by filling them up with ‘good food' when in fact they're creating problems for them now and in later life.
"It's important to encourage children to recognise when they are full and to allow them not to eat any more when they feel full. Most parents will go with this with sweet treats but not when it comes to other foods," Dr Murphy commented.
She insisted that this message ‘is critical' and parents must become aware that children only need child-sized portions.
Meanwhile, Dr Foley-Nolan emphasised that children do not need to eat the same amount as adults. For example, a five-year-old child only needs about half the amount of food that an adult needs.
"We know that any change to habits can be a challenge and we all want to nourish and nurture our children but giving them the right amount of all foods is key to their health. We have lots of practical advice and tools on appropriate portion sizes for meals and for snacks on our website safefood.eu and how to make these healthier changes as a family," she noted.
Safefood offers the following tips to parents on how to reduce their children's portion sizes:
-Use smaller plates and cutlery for young children.
-Offer small portions of food to start with. If they want more, give it to them
-If they say they are still hungry after a meal, offer something nutritious like fruit
-Try to avoid giving them fatty or sugary snacks between and after meals
-Do not pressure them to finish everything on their plate. If they say they are full, allow them to stop eating
-Keep treats as treats - small amounts and not every day.