Parents should look for healthier snacks of no more than 100 calories for their children, and limit then to two a day, according to Public Health England (PHE).

To help parents in the South West take control of their children’s snacking, PHE is launching the first Change4Life campaign promoting healthier snacks. This is because half of children’s sugar intake, currently around seven sugar cubes a day, comes from unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks, leading to obesity and dental decay.

Recent data shows childhood obesity has reached alarming rates, with 22% of four-to-five year-olds overweight or obese in the South West, increasing to 30% in 10-11 year-olds.

Each year children in are consuming almost 400 biscuits; more than 120 cakes, buns and pastries; around 100 portions of sweets; nearly 70 of both chocolate bars and ice creams; washed down with over 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink.

On average, children are consuming at least three unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks a day, with around a third consuming four or more. The overall result is that children consume three times more sugar than is recommended.

The new Change4Life campaign encourages parents in the South West to, ‘Look for 100 calorie snacks, two a day max’ to help them purchase healthier snacks than the ones they are currently.

Parents will be signposted and given special offers on a range of healthier snacks, including fruit and vegetables at selected supermarkets. They can also get money-off vouchers to help them try healthier snack options, including malt loaf, lower sugar fromage frais, and drinks with no added sugar.

Many of the unhealthy snacks children consume regularly are high in sugar and also typically high in calories, for example:

An ice-cream contains around 175 calories
A pack of crisps contains around 190 calories
A chocolate bar contains around 200 calories
A pastry contains around 270 calories

The ‘100 calorie snacks, two a day max’ tip applies to all snacks apart from fruit and vegetables, as children should also be encouraged to eat a variety of these to achieve their 5 A Day.

Justine Womack, Childhood Obesity lead for the Health Improvement team at Public Health England, South West, explained, “Changing our children’s snacking habits can be a real challenge and we want to make it easier for families to find healthier options.

“By asking parents to Look for 100 calorie snacks, two a day max, we’re helping them to give heathier snacks, while giving them less frequently.

“I know as a parent how hard it can be but it really is just a case of swapping unhealthy snacks as much as possible”

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, added, “The true extent of children’s snacking habits is greater than the odd biscuit or chocolate bar. Children are having unhealthy snacks throughout the day and parents have told us they’re concerned.

“To make it easier for busy families, we’ve developed a simple rule of thumb to help them move towards healthier snacking – look for 100 calorie snacks, two a day max.”

PHE’s improved Change4Life ‘Food Scanner’ app also shows parents how many calories, sugar, salt and saturated fat is in their food to help make healthier choices easier. It can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.

With a third of children leaving primary school overweight or obese, tackling obesity requires wider action and is not just limited to individual efforts from parents. PHE is working with the food industry nationally to cut 20% of sugar from the products children consume most by 2020, with work to reduce calories due to start in 2018.