Calls have been made for schools in Cork and across Ireland to provide sugar-free alternatives at events that are usually packed with sugary treats.
Cork dental surgeon Evelyn Crowley said that using food as a reward at school and other settings can teach children to eat when they are not hungry — a habit that could last a lifetime and has a negative impact on both oral and general health.
She added that it also shows kids that achievements should be marked by eating, and that can undermine healthy practices taught at home by parents.
Ms Crowley’s comments come after British health authorities in London called for every school in the area to be sugar-free by 2022.
The policy would mean no sugary drinks, crisps, or chocolate are allowed in packed lunches.
Ms Crowley said similar practices are needed here in Ireland.
She advised replacing sweet treats with a lucky dip from a box containing small stationary items like fancy erasers, funky pencils, cool pens, or bookmarks.
She added that extra play time in the yard or getting involved in health initiatives as a school could also be a reward to replace sweets.
“Birthday-party policies should also be drawn up with a healthier angle,” she said. “Providing party balloons and prizes rather than cake should be practised.
“If parents send in sweet treats into school for their child’s birthday, that may be 25 to 30 times a year the child has sweet treats in school. It all adds up.”
While she is not opposed to parties in schools, Ms Crowley said that she has a zero tolerance for ‘fizzy drinks’ at any party in school, as she sees the damage they can do to children’s teeth.
She said school celebrations should serve water with non-sticky sweet treats as well as sandwiches and fruit or veg snacks as well.
“Fruit Kebabs are a great way to make fruit more attractive at parties,” she advised.
The Irish Dental Association (IDA) recently hit out at the HSE’s new oral health policy which the IDA claims has failed to include any meaningful role for pre-schools, primary schools, or secondary schools in promoting good oral health practices.
Professor Leo Stassen, president of the IDA, recently told delegates at the association’s AGM that many schools still reward good behaviour with sweet treats.
“End-of-term parties, cake sales and visits to fast-food restaurants by teams after matches are, unfortunately, regular features of school life. They shouldn’t be, and the same applies to home life and club activities.”