Northern Ireland parents are prioritising ‘family time’ during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure their children are safe, happy and healthy¹, according to new research for the START campaign. 

The research, which interviewed groups of local parents on three different occasions during the year, found that parents believed having more time together as a family has been a positive during the Covid-19 restrictions

Additionally², recent research by Behaviour and Attitudes on behalf of RTE found that 86% of respondents believed that family was more important since Covid-19 began.

The START campaign is encouraging parents to use their increased focus on ‘family time’ to begin a new healthy habit and start their children on the way to healthier life.

These healthier habits could include getting children more involved with preparing mealtimes and healthy snacks with their parents or putting down screens for more indoor play or getting out and active together as a family.

Introducing the latest phase of the START campaign, Dr Catherine Conlon, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said: “We know it’s been really hard for families with all the uncertainties that the pandemic has brought for parents and for their children. The one good thing that has come out of it is families have more time to spend together. Parents tell us that they appreciate this and want it to continue. We want to tap into that positivity and support parents in making the most of more time together by making small changes to build healthier habits for all the family.”

“The START campaign is all about introducing small changes in your family. This could include more family meals, watching portion sizes, swapping the couch for the park or indoor games, or regular sleep routines. Big wins can start with small changes like this and the health benefits will add up over time.”

Endorsing the campaign, local Radio presenter and father of four, Ibe Sesay, said:  “As a parent, I know the challenges we’ve all faced during the coronavirus pandemic, from balancing working from home, to running a household, and trying to keep our kids’ school work on track. Yet, spending so much time with my wife and children has undoubtedly strengthened our family unit and made us prioritise the time we spend together.

“The START campaign is encouraging parents to help our children feel happier and healthier during this pandemic by making the most of ‘family time’ and using this time together to support family health and wellbeing. This might a family walk, which has become a precious time of the day that everyone looks forward to in my household or getting everyone involved in the preparation and cooking of a healthy, nutritious family meal.”

Practical Tips on how to use ‘family time’ to introduce small, positive changes:

  • It’s a team effort: Agree between everyone what small changes you’re going to make – that way, you’re all part of it so that’s it less of a ‘you versus them’ approach.
  • Give it time: Make small changes and try to stick with them. There will be ups and downs but sticking to them makes it easier in the long run.
  • Get kids involved in food: Include your children in meal planning and preparing dinner or making a healthy snack together to encourage participation.
  • Make exercise a family affair: Take your kids to the park for a walk, bike ride or to play a game. Get moving together indoors using some YouTube exercise videos.
  • Play family games together: Try sitting down as a family to play a board games, 20 questions or charades. Games bring families together and help parents reclaim family time.
  • Sleep matters: Getting enough good quality sleep is very important for all the family. Leave phones and devices outside the bedroom to help create a more relaxing environment.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself – the past few months have been difficult for parents. You are doing your best to keep it all going!

The START campaign is a five-year public health awareness campaign from safefood, the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency.  The campaign encourages families to take the first step towards a healthier lifestyle for their children by supporting them with one daily win and to persist with the changes.

To find out more about the START campaign visit

Pictured supporting the START Campaign to encourage parents to make the most of family time and begin a new healthy habit today is local radio presenter, Ibe Sesay and his son Daniel.


Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan


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