'Parents face an enormous task to get children to eat heathily'

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A charity has warned that tackling children's taste for sugar and junk food will be a ‘public health test like no other’.


Children aged four to seven were most likely to eat sugary food daily

The warning from the Children’s Food Trust comes as its first state of the nation report reveals the ‘enormity of the task’ parents face to get their children to eat more healthily.

It says that the measures by the Government this year to tackle childhood obesity, including an action plan and taxation of sugary drinks, will not go anywhere near far enough.

The report is based on interviews with 2,001 parents of children aged four to 16, and research into children and family eating habits published in the last year.

Of those parents interviewed, four in ten said their children eat products like cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sweets and crisps, a few times a week, while a quarter said it was at least once a day. Children aged four to seven were the most likely to be having cakes and biscuits, sweets and chocolate at least once per day.

When asked ‘Does your child have too much sugar as part of their everyday diet?’, parents answered ‘yes’ for 50 per cent of children.

Cutting down on the sweets, chocolates, cakes and biscuits they buy, getting rid of sugary squash at home and buying different breakfast cereals, were the steps most parents wanted to take to cut down the amount of sugar their child has. However, when asked why they hadn’t made those changes, more than a quarter said they are habits which are hard to change and almost in five said their child would complain too much.

Another challenge, according to the report, is pester power. More than a third of parents said their children pester for unhealthy food and drink at least once a day, and it’s more likely to happen at the supermarket or while watching TV.

Four out of ten parents said it was difficult or very difficult to say no when their child is pestering for these foods.

Adverts exposing children to junk food in the evenings and weekends, as well as the lack of healthy options available for children in restaurants, were also raised as areas of concern.

More than a quarter of parents said they wanted to see restaurants offering more fruit and vegetables in children’s meals. One in ten parents wanted an end to unlimited soft drink refills or for restaurants to offer only healthier drinks.

The report goes on to reference its own research into children’s packed lunches that revealed chocolate biscuits, cereal bars, crisps and sugary drinks continue to be staples of children’s lunchboxes.

Linda Cregan, chief executive of the Children’s Food Trust, said, ‘The good news is that as a country, we’ve taken the first step: we know we’ve got a problem. Parents don’t want to pass on to their children 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.

‘It’s an environment which makes it so difficult for children to understand what healthy means, and for parents to push back against pester power. 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 state of the nation report shows we need to go much further if we don’t want the next generation to go through life plagued by poor health.’

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