Consumer knowledge and practice in relation to drinks for children and young people

Date: August 2009

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Summary

  • Drinks containersParents and teenagers had a good idea of which drinks were healthier than others, but most did not count drinks as part of their daily food consumption. Calories from drinks are therefore invisible to them
  • The main concern around drinks (when probed) was sugar content and in particular, ‘hidden sugars’. This was followed by E numbers, and then fat and caffeine content to a lesser extent
  • Schools (via policies and the curriculum), doctors and dentists were seen as key informants and influencers when it came to nutrition information. Most parents felt it was the government’s duty to inform the general public and the school’s responsibility to inform the children of the correct guidelines. Many parents reported learning about healthy eating from their children
  • A common view was that parental control over food intake is somewhat lost when children reach a certain age. While younger children were said to be influenced both by what their parents purchase and school policies, teenagers were influenced by other factors when choosing their drinks, including cost, advertising and, to a great extent, image
  • Parents perceived the increased variety of drinks in the marketplace as a negative, as it causes confusion as to what is ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. They also said they find it difficult to access information on the content of drinks and believe that juices and juice drinks (anything that does not constitute ‘soft drinks’) are mainly healthy. Many called for clearer and easier to understand information to be provided on pack.

Key messages for consumers

  • Drinks are an important part of our diets (and calorie intakes) and need to considered as part of our overall food intake because of the nutrients they provide (or lack of them) and how they affect our appetite
  • Milk and water are the most suitable drinks between meals
  • Low-fat or semi-skimmed milk is suitable for children aged two and upwards who are eating well. Babies and toddlers need the extra calories provided by full fat or whole milk
  • Flavoured milk and hot chocolate are good alternative sources of calcium for those who do not drink milk, but they should be reserved for mealtimes because they contain added sugar. When buying them compare the labels and choose those with the lowest amount of added sugar
  • Fruit juice is a good choice, though there are a number of points to consider:
    – Juices can contain sugar so choose 100% pure fruit juices that are unsweetened, i.e. contain no added sugar
    – Juices only count as one portion of your 5-a-day fruit and vegetables requirements, regardless of how much you drink
    – 100% pure fruit juices made ‘from concentrate’ count equally towards your 5-a-day
    – All types of fruit juice are acidic and can damage teeth, so they are better kept to mealtimes and consumed with a straw
    – When giving fruit juices to children, it is best to dilute them - one part juice to ten parts water
  • Squashes and ‘juice/fruit drinks’ often contain very little juice and quite a lot of sugar, so keep them to a minimum. Sugar-free squashes are a healthier alternative
  • Fizzy drinks contain a lot of sugar and are also acidic, so they can be very harmful to teeth and should not be drunk too often. Ideally they should be drunk with a straw and with meals. ‘Sugar-free’ or ‘diet’ varieties do contain less sugar but are still acidic. Using a straw will reduce the amount of sugar that comes into contact with teeth
  • Stimulant or so-called ‘energy’ drinks usually contain a lot of sugar and caffeine. These drinks are not suitable as thirst quenchers after sports activities and should not be drunk with alcohol or medication. 
  • Children under 16 or pregnant women should not drink energy drinks. Sports drinks can be helpful to those who are doing intensive sport lasting longer than 60 minutes, but because of their high sugar content they should not be drunk every day, or outside of sporting activities
  • When choosing hot drinks, ask for them to be made with low fat/skimmed milk and go for regular size options rather than larger ones
  • Consumers should read the labels on drinks and compare brands for their fat and sugar content
  • Parents and guardians can encourage children to choose healthier drinks by following these tips:
    – Make healthier choices when shopping - if you limit what’s available, then it is easier for younger children to make healthier choices
    – Don’t be afraid to make changes at home. Parents who simply stop buying unhealthy drinks say it works, despite some initial resistance
    – Make healthy drinks fun – use straws, brightly coloured bottles and different types of glasses to encourage younger children to consume milk and water
    – Teenagers will be more interested in knowing the short term benefits of choosing healthy drinks, which will help them to make healthier choices

Remember – every little step counts!

different coloured drinks containers