A survey of 1,000 parents together with one of their children showed that 12% of all four- to eight-year-olds had a fizzy drink on any given day, but this rises to 35% in households where a parent ‘often’ consumes fizzy drinks.
Water was the most popular drink amongst the children studied (72%), followed by milk (55%) and squash (50%). Fizzy drinks came further down the list (14%), but fruit juice remains a popular choice (41%).
Where parents drank fruit juice, children were more than twice as likely (115%) to also drink it. UK dietary guidance now suggests limiting fruit juice and smoothie consumption to 150 ml a day because of their sugar content.
The finding shows how the influence of parents can cause children to “fall out of line” with the latest healthy eating recommendations, the Council noted.
Dr Emma Derbyshire,children’s nutrition adviser to the Council and the report’s author, said it isn’t surprising that children are influenced by the choices their parents make. “What is interesting is the extent to which habits such as drinking fizzy drinks are being mirrored by children,” she explained.
On average, children are twice as likely (96%) than other children to drink something that their parents drink frequently. “This demonstrates the potential for parents to positively influence healthy hydration habits too,” the authors noted.
Derbyshire urged parents to drink plain water in front of their children more often given that more than a third (37%) of young children are not drinking water on any given day. In households were parents often consume water this falls to 13%.
Whilst almost two thirds (63%) of the children do not drink plain water on any given day, the parental influence was still able to impact their overall consumption, with a rise to 87% in households where parents drink plain water often, Derbyshire noted.
“The research highlights that children often mimic their parents selections and this means that parents are in the perfect position to enable the best choice possible,” added psychologist Emma Kenny.
Gavin Partington, director general at the British Soft Drinks Association, said the survey shows children enjoy a wide array of drinks. “All parents should be encouraged to ensure their children enjoy a balanced diet," he added.
More than one in four (22%) of all the children quizzed said that fizzy drinks are their favourite beverages, whilst a similar number (21%) request a fizzy drink on a ‘typical day’.
The UK government has included a tax on sugary drinks as part of its new childhood obesity strategy. Fruit juices without added sugars will be exempt from the levy under plans published for consultation in August.