More than 70 percent of fifth and sixth-graders in Taiwan eat unhealthy snacks or beverages at least twice a week and 16.1 percent consume junk food every day, the Child Welfare League Foundation said yesterday.
The recent string of food safety scandals that affecting many popular snacks makes the questions of what and how often children are consuming high-sugar, caloric or toxic additive-laced food all the more pressing, the foundation said at a press conference.
A survey carried out by the organization found that in addition to the 16.1 percent of fifth and sixth-graders who eat an unhealthy snack at least once a day, 12.1 percent eat junk food four to five times a week and 42.1 percent twice or three times a week.
The poll found that potato chips, sugary drinks and ice cream are the three most popular snacks, all of which contain high amounts of sugar, sodium and calories, and provide little nutrition, the group said.
Foundation executive secretary Stephanie Huang (黃韻璇) said the figures point to several worrying underlying problems in children’s eating habits.
Other than junk food ingredients having contributed to an obesity rate of 25.9 percent among Taiwanese elementary-school students, “most of the kids — 75.9% — are not able to correctly ascertain the amount of calories a food item contains form its nutrition fact label,” Huang said.
“Also, since parents largely determine children’s eating habits, the poll found that 23 percent of the children who eat non-nutritious snacks more than once a day come from families with adults who do the same, making a child in such a familial setting 1.8 times more likely than other children to develop bad eating habits,” she added.
Another problem is that 44.6 percent of the children polled are junk food-dependent to some extent, with some having a desire to snack even if they are full or becoming angry if they do not get the food, Huang said.
Tsai I-hsien (蔡一賢), department head of dietetic services at Mackay Memorial Hospital, warned that childhood obesity and excess weight has more serious health consequences than adult obesity.
“While the fat cells in overweight or obese adults increase in size, those in overweight or obese children increase in number,” Tsai said. “If overweight kids stay fat into adulthood, the health risks that this condition carries will likely be worse than in those who only become overweight when they’re adult, given that the body’s fat cells are larger and more numerous.”
Tsai advised parents and children to consume “the right types of snacks.”
“It’s hard to curb a child’s desire to snack, so choosing the right ones is more important than setting a minimum level for junk food consumption,” Tsai said, adding that sugary drinks such as sodas and bubble tea can be replaced by drinkable yogurt or milk, while additive-free snacks could take the place of unhealthy ones.