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Children and healthy eating

One in five children in the Reception class at school is overweight or obese (boys 22.6%, girls 21.2%). One in three children in Year 6 is overweight or obese (boys 34.6%, girls 31.5%).

Sugar is a major source of excess calories in children. Soft drinks (excluding fruit juice) are the largest single source of sugar for children aged 11 to 18 years, providing on average 29% of daily sugar intake for this group as a whole.

For younger children (aged four to ten years) soft drinks, biscuits, buns, cakes, pastries and puddings, breakfast cereals, confectionery and fruit juices are major sources of their sugar intake.

Healthy eating for the next generation

Encouragingly, the overwhelming majority of all respondents – 84% – said they passed on healthy eating knowledge to their children, although the figure was highest amongst 18–24 year-olds at 87% and lowest amongst 55+ year olds at 77% (although that percentage is still high).

Rather than this being a reflection of negative attitudes towards healthy eating education amongst older survey respondents, it’s more likely that parents now aged 55+ didn’t feel the need to drill their children about healthy eating because historically there was much less choice of snacks and ‘junk’ food. Families tended to eat together more often and of course there was much less media and health professional focus on healthy diet choices.

This question did highlight the point that more women (88%) than men (79%) say they teach their children about healthy eating. This discrepancy is probably because mums, rather than dads, can often be the ‘gate-keepers’ when it comes to food shopping choices, and are more likely to ‘police’ meal and snack choices – particularly those of their younger children. Despite expensive, and lengthy, public health campaigns and the intense media focus on healthy eating issues, many parents still feel they don’t know enough to teach their children about healthy eating. While 72% said they were well-enough informed, more than a quarter – 28% – said they were not.

Significantly more women (78%) than men (66%) believed they knew enough to pass on healthy eating advice to their children, almost certainly a reflection of the intense focus on the subject in media aimed at women.

Info 2016 13

Making healthy choices?

Despite all the information around the health dangers of sugary snacks for children, it seems that the majority of parents are prepared to ignore the advice in favour of allowing their children treats… A KitKat ice cream cone contains 19.6g of sugar. The recommended daily amount of sugar for a child aged four–six is 19g. However,57% of all respondents said they’d let their children eat the KitKat ice cream cone, while 42% said not.

Younger parents were more likely to allow the treat, with 75% of 18–24 year-olds answering ‘yes’, dropping to 72% of 25–34 year-olds, 68% of 35–44 year-olds, 56% of 45–54 year-olds and 46% of over 55s. Slightly more men (60%) than women (55%) said they’d allow the treat.

Info 2016 15B


Find out more about attitudes to healthy eating in our National Health Report. 

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