New report highlights role of drinks in daily calorie intake

safefood advises consumers to be aware that drinks are part of the daily diet and calorie intake

25 August, 2009. A new report [1] which gives insights into what parents of young children and teenagers themselves think about drinks has revealed that parents do not count drinks as part of their children’s daily food consumption. The report, commissioned by safefood, also revealed that parents and teenagers shared a number of similar concerns but had very different purchasing patterns in terms of where they bought drinks, what drinks they bought, and also what influenced them in making these decisions [2].

Commenting on the report, Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health and Nutrition safefood said, “This research clearly shows that we as consumers have a bit of a blind spot about the contribution of liquids to our daily calorie intake. Many soft drinks on the market contain a lot of ‘added’ sugars and few nutrients for example, sweetened fruit juice drinks and fizzy soft drinks. Water, milk and pure, unsweetened fruit juice drinks are the healthiest drink options and any other drink should be seen as a ‘treat’”.

In addition, the report revealed that parents know milk and water are the healthiest options as drinks and that when parents made changes to the drinks they bought, their children adapted.

“Both parents and teenagers indicated that mindless consumption plays a huge role in what they eat and drink”, continued Dr. Foley-Nolan. “Teenagers said they always needed ‘a drink’ while they were hanging out, watching television or socialising with one another. It also emerged that the consumption of many drinks was down to habit and what children/teenagers were used to. Many parents said they tried to reduce the number of fizzy drinks being purchased and were quite successful at doing this. When they made positive changes to the type of drinks consumed, despite some initial resistance, their children adapted and got used to it quite easily” she added.

A common dilemma expressed by those surveyed for the report was that parental control over food intake is somewhat lost as children reach a certain age. The research indicated that teenagers were influenced by image, advertising and cost when choosing their drinks. The power of brand advertising and celebrity endorsement of certain drinks were seen as major reasons why young people choose certain drinks. Parents expressed the belief that the marketing and pack formats of certain drinks were attractive to children and that these factors encouraged their children to consume these drinks.

“We know from dietary intake research who consumes what type of drinks. This research reveals that parents feel that a sugary drink is more favourable than a sugary food as a treat and both, parents and teenagers, seem to ignore the significant calorie counts of many of the drinks consumed in our schools and homes”, said Dr. Foley-Nolan. “It also highlights the challenges faced by parents when purchasing soft drinks for their children and the influence of advertising on their purchasing habits”, she added.



For further information please contact

In the Republic of Ireland:

Susie Cunningham / Cliodhna Lamont,

WHPR Telephone: 01 669 0030 / 087 8505055 (Susie) and 087 9250874 (Cliodhna) Email: and

In Northern Ireland:

Sarah Young / Sarah Eakin at Smarts

Telephone: 028 9039 5511/ 028 9039 5521

Email: /


[1] safefood Drinks: “Consumer knowledge and practice in relation to drinks for children and young people” 2009 (safefood/Millward Brown Lansdowne)

[2] safefood Drinks: “Consumer knowledge and practice in relation to drinks for children and young people” 2009 (safefood/Millward Brown Lansdowne) Table 1 Drink purchasing patterns among parents and teenagers – where and what they buy and the major influences on their purchases.

Editor’s Notes

The aim of the safefood research was to identify consumer knowledge and practice in relation to drinks for children aged over two years and young people aged twelve to eighteen years. Independent market research was conducted by Millward Brown Lansdowne with eleven qualitative focus groups, consisting of parents and guardians of children aged two to twelve years and teenagers aged fifteen to eighteen years.

Key findings

  • Drinks were not considered to be liquid food and, therefore, were not factored into what is consumed on a daily basis. Parents and teenagers generally knew which drinks were healthier than others, but don’t count drinks as a part of their daily food consumption. Calories from drinks were therefore ‘invisible’ or not a conscious part of diet to them.
  • The main concern around drinks was sugar content and in particular ‘hidden sugars’. This was followed by E numbers (additives) and then fat and caffeine content.
  • Schools (via policies and curriculum), doctors and dentists were seen as key informants and influencers when it came to nutritional information. Most parents felt it was a government’s duty to inform the general public and the school’s responsibility to inform the children of the correct dietary guidelines. Many parents reported learning about healthy eating from their children.
  • Many parents said that they lost control over the eating habits of their child once they reached a certain age. While younger people are generally influenced 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 said that 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 packaging.

In terms of encouraging the consumption of healthier options there are a number of tips for parents and guardians:

  • Make healthier choices when shopping
  • Make positive changes in the home. Parents who implement changes in drinks available say that it works despite some initial resistance
  • Make it fun – use straws, brightly coloured bottles and different types of glasses to encourage younger children to consume milk and water
  • Parents should drink milk themselves - act as positive role model
  • For teenagers, highlighting the short term benefits of choosing drinks will facilitate healthier choices