A survey of 2,001 parents by Opinium Research for the Children’s Food Trust’s state of the nation report revealed when asked: “Does your child have too much sugar?”, parents answered “yes” for 50% of kids.
More than a third of parents said their children pester them for sugary snacks every single day and four out of ten parents said it’s difficult to say no when their child is pestering for these sorts of foods.
“The good news is that as a country, we’ve taken the first step: we know we’ve got a problem,” said Children’s Food Trust’s CEO Linda Cregan.
“Parents don’t want to pass on to their kids the ravaging health effects of poor diet that this generation of parents is experiencing, so now we’ve got to make sure every part of society is doing its bit to change the food environment we’ve created.”
The parents surveyed said they wanted to take steps to reduce the amount of sugar in their children’s diets - including, cutting down on the sweets and chocolates they buy, getting rid of sugary squash in the house and buying different breakfast cereals.
When asked why they hadn’t already made those changes, more than a quarter of parents said they were “habits which are hard to change” and one in five said their child would complain too much.
With 86% of parents worrying about how their child eats (particularly younger parents and those with kids aged four to seven), something needs to be done, according to Cregan.
“It’s so difficult for children to understand what healthy means and for parents to push back against pester power,” said Cregan.
“Whether it’s less healthy treats from well-meaning friends and relatives, junk food in vending machines right outside the swimming pool changing rooms or sugary cereals with kiddie appeal on the lowest shelves at the supermarket – it’s our new normal and everywhere we turn, we’re sending confusing messages to children.
“The childhood obesity action plan took some welcome first steps but our report shows we need to go much further if we don’t want the next generation to go through life plagued by poor health.”
So what can be done?
Children’s Food Trust’s head of research and nutritionist Jo Nicholas offered her advice to The Huffington Post UK on what parents can do to reduce sugar intake.
1. Act as role models.
“Perhaps the biggest message is that this has to be something the whole family does – we are children’s biggest role models for what and how they eat,” she explained.
“If you’re going to cut down on the amount of cake and biscuits in your house, or if you’re going to change the cereal you buy, you’ve got to stick to it if you want the kids to as well.”
2. Talk about it with them first.
“Talk about why we need to eat less sugar, and the sorts of foods and drinks in which you find it,” she advised.
“They’ll probably surprise you with how much they understand already: our report showed really clearly that children have pretty good knowledge of what makes a healthy diet, they’re just not always that good at putting it into practice.”
3. Agree with your kids that you’ll all still enjoy cakes.
This will be “every now and again”, so tell them cakes and sweets won’t be in the cupboard all the time Nicholas advised.
“You could think about portion sizes in how you cut down - maybe have a rule that just one biscuit is enough,” she said.
“Decide together what healthier after-school snacks you could create together – getting children into the kitchen is a fantastic way to get them interested in different tastes.
“Not having those sorts of foods in the house at all can help – then they become foods that you might only eat when you’re out and about.”