Food makers to market more healthy foods for kids
research suggests the health message has yet to reach children,
reports Lindsey Partos.
Just over half of parents in the UK actually educate their children about healthy eating, finds a new report from market analysts Mintel.
And a similar proportion (just 51%) mention putting into place any specific course of action, such as avoiding too much sugar, while just two in five (42 per cent) avoid giving kids high fat foods.
Today there is a strong carbohydrate element to children's diets, with bread (85 per cent), fruit (82 per cent), biscuits (80 per cent), cereals (78 per cent) and tomato ketchup (78 per cent) named as the top five foods for Britain's seven to 16 year old children.
The fresh figures from Mintel come as childhood obesity rates in the UK start to cause concern. According to data from the International Obesity Task Force (IOFT), the number of European kids overweight is rising by a hefty 400,000 a year.
Obesity, defined as a Body Mass Index over 30, is a risk factor for a host of illnesses including heart disease, hypertension and respiratory disease.
There is growing evidence to suggest that parents can play a critical role in averting obesity in their children.
A small pilot study from the US, for example, recently suggested that the role of mothers in controlling the diet of their kids in early childhood is crucial to preventing obesity in later life.
"Although messages about the importance of leading a healthy life seem to be getting through, too many parents are still unsure about how to actually put a healthy diet into practice," says Maria Elustondo, an analyst at Mintel.
Their findings come despite strong growth for functional foods in the UK. The region is one of Europe's biggest functional foods markets, growing by 523 per cent from 1997-2003 to reach around £1.2 billion in 2003.
The vast majority (72 per cent) of 11 to 16 year olds know that it is important to eat a balanced diet, but many do not seem to be putting this knowledge into practice, writes Mintel.
Despite a significant fall since 2001 almost seven in ten (67 per cent) still often eat between meals, and over half (53 per cent) claim to eat whatever they like.
"While it is encouraging to see that as many as eight in ten (82 per cent) do eat fruit, it is of some concern that far fewer, at just seven in ten (69 per cent), eat vegetables," finds the report.
When it comes to eating between meals, just one out of the top five snacks of choice prove to be a healthier option. The top choice is potato crisps (41 per cent), followed by chocolate (39 per cent), then comes fruit (35 per cent), sweets (29 per cent) and sweet biscuits (22 per cent).
"Children need to be educated on the benefits of a healthy diet for themselves. This could be done by marketing certain foods as 'beauty foods', which are good for healthy skin, hair and nails, or 'sports fuel'," says Elustondo.
In the image-struck society it comes as no surprise that the report found girls are much more interested than boys in healthy eating, withthree-quarters of girls understanding the importance of eating abalanced diet, compared to fewer than seven in ten boys. But of concern, girls (44 per cent) are almost twice as likely as boys (23 per cent) to be trying to lose weight, and are also more likely to feel guilty about eating (41 per cent).
As many as one in three children say that they often try to lose weight - whether they need to or not - and a similar proportion eat when they are sad. Three in ten also say that they sometimes feel guilty about eating.
The report claims that parents need to realise that weight gain is not just down to the child's diet, but to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
Many children are spending a large amount of time slumped in front of the television or playing computers and game consoles.
"Clearly children need to be encouraged to become more active as well as to have a healthier diet," adds Elustondo.