Parents are making children fatter by cramming their lunchboxes with more than a whole day's worth of sugar
Parents are making children fatter by packing their lunchboxes with sugary foods, new research reveals.
Fewer than a third of parents think making their child's lunch healthy is the top priority and three quarters even admit to feeling guilty about what they pack.
Young children are most likely to be sent to school with a ham sandwich, a yoghurt, a packet of crisps, an apple and a carton of fruit juice.
And a lunch of those items would contain an average of 25g of sugar in a single meal – a gram more than the recommended 24g per day for nine-year-olds.
The worrying revelations come just three months after NHS figures revealed more than a third of 11-year-old children in the UK are overweight.
Experts warn parents need to make sure their children are eating healthily throughout the day to give them a good start in life.
The charity Action for Children used polling results from 4348 adults – 535 of whom have children aged between five and 13 – to make its findings.
It found the typical nine-year-old's lunchbox contained a third of the child's calories, nearly half of their salt intake and more sugar than is needed for a whole day.
And this could be eaten on top of the huge amounts of sugar found in popular cereals like Coco Pops and Frosties which children eat before they even arrive at school.
Other popular lunchbox foods include chocolate bars and cakes which push the health risks even higher.
Three quarters of parents confess they feel guilty about what they give their children to eat, but may be worried they won't eat it.
Surveyed parents' top priority – 38 per cent said it is most important – is sending their children to school with a lunch they are sure the child will eat.
Only 28 per cent of parents say making sure a lunchbox is nutritious is their main concern.
Emma Horne, Action for Children's director for England South said: 'Most parents understand the pressure to pack a lunchbox that will come home empty at the end of the day.
Action for Children experts say there is 'no need' for a child's lunchbox to contain chocolate, sweets, crisps or other unhealthy snacks.
And the most popular things to put in a lunchbox are ham sandwiches, yoghurts, crisps, apples and cartons of juice.
'And it makes things even harder when you’re time-poor and budget conscious.
'But it’s clear that childhood obesity is a problem we need to tackle, to save our children from suffering physical and mental health problems when they grow up.
More than 130,000 children in the UK are obese before they leave primary school, figures revealed in May.
Last year around 170,000 primary school leavers were overweight to some degree, according to the National Child Measurement Programme.
Obesity costs the NHS over £6bn a year and makes people more likely to die from cancer, stroke or heart disease.
Experts say there is 'no need' for crisps and sweets in children's lunchboxes, and recommend swapping juice for water or milk, and ditching crisps in favour of chopped vegetables and houmous.
Public health nutritionist Mari Clark, said: 'Through no fault of their own, many parents simply don’t know exactly what their child needs.
'This isn’t helped by confusing packaging that has pictures full of fruit and happy children, when the products inside are packed with sugar and fat and salt.
'There is no need for any lunchbox to contain crisps, sweets, processed food, cereal bars, chocolates and things like that.