Dr Evelyn Crowley, a dental surgeon in Cork, said that using food as a reward at school and other settings can teach children to eat when they are not hungry, which is a habit that can last a lifetime and has a negative impact on both oral and general health.
In addition, it shows children that achievements should be marked by eating, and that can undermine healthy nutrition practices taught by parents at home.
Many schools reward good behaviour with sweet treats, but Dr Crowley believes these could be replaced with a lucky dip box containing small stationery items like fancy erasers, funky pencils and pens, or bookmarks.
She added that extra play time outside or getting involved in health initiatives as a school could also be used as a reward to replace sweets.
‘Birthday party policies should also be drawn up with a healthier angle,’ she said.
With a zero tolerance for fizzy drinks, she said school celebrations should serve water with non-sticky sweet treats as well as sandwiches and fruit or veg snacks.
‘Fruit kebabs are a great way to make fruit more attractive at parties,’ she advised.
Dr Crowley said Ireland should follow the example of British health authorities, who have called for schools in London to be sugar-free by 2022.