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The development comes amid increasing concern about childhood obesity. Currently, there are no healthy eating guidelines specifically for Irish toddlers and pre-schoolers aged one-to-five years.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has been requested to prepare the report, which will be published in 2018 and used to develop healthy eating guidelines for this target group.
In devising its recommendations, the FSAI will examine dietary intake data on children aged one-to-five years in Ireland, as well as scientific literature on which macronutrients and micronutrients need to be considered for developing food-based dietary guidelines for this age group.
“Part of the remit of the FSAI is to provide the Department of Health with scientific opinion on issues of concern and these include, in particular, childhood obesity,” a Department spokesperson told MI. “The recently-published Obesity Policy and Action Plan (2016-2025) calls for the development of a suite of healthy eating guidelines for the general population.”
The Department confirmed to MI that it had not made any recommendations or stipulations in relation to dietary provision by providers under the Single Affordable Childcare Scheme, or Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme.
A National Early Years (EY) Strategy is expected to be published this year, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA).
It will outline Ireland’s “whole-of-Government vision” for children aged up to six years.
“Within this context, an emphasis is expected to be placed on ensuring that the early years are ‘Active and Healthy’, including the promotion of healthy eating from an early age,” said the spokesperson.
They also referred to childcare regulations stipulating that “a registered provider shall ensure that adequate and suitable, nutritious and varied food and drink is available for each pre-school child attending the pre-school service”.
According to the DCYA spokesperson: “The EY Inspectorate of Tusla inspects against the regulations and is currently developing a Quality and Regulatory Framework Tool to assist EY providers understand what is required of them.
“EY services who avail of funding under the DCYA’s various childcare schemes are encouraged to implement Síolta, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. This supports EY providers to encourage healthy eating. One of the objectives included is as follows: In partnership with the adult, children will make healthy choices and demonstrate positive attitudes to nutrition… ”
The Growing Up in Ireland study (2011) reported that 19 per cent of nine-year-olds were overweight and 7 per cent were obese.