Poll shows parents are confused about what constitutes healthy food

12 December 2017
child eating cake

A study out of Australia shows that most parents there are confused about what constitutes healthy food and for many children treats are now everyday snacks.

The results come from the latest Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll and highlight the fact that Australian children don’t get enough vegetables and regularly consume sugar-sweetened beverages.

The report found that a quarter of parents mistakenly believe that fruit drinks may be a healthier option than water and that a third of Aussie kids are regularly consuming sugar-sweetened drinks.

While almost a third of parents incorrectly believe children may need sports drinks to recover from regular physical activity.

Dr Anthea Rhodes, director of the RCH National Child Health Poll and RCH paediatrician, said sugar can be confusing for parents when it comes to food choices.

“This study tells us that the majority of parents are confused about which foods are healthy and which foods aren’t, especially when it comes to choosing the right foods for their kids.

”With one in four Australian children overweight or obese, it’s vital that parents are supported to make healthy food choices for their families. Most parents (66%) said they find it hard to know how much added sugar is in food. Sugar in drinks can be especially confusing, water is always the healthiest option and kids should be encouraged to drink more water,” she says.

The report also found that Aussie kids aren’t getting the daily recommended intake of vegetables, with the poll revealing that nine out of ten school-aged children don’t eat the recommended daily serves of vegetables.

Only one in four parents are aware of the recommended daily intake of vegetables for their child, which is around five serves per day.

“A lack of whole fruits and vegetables in the diet can mean children are at risk of not getting enough fibre and essential nutrients, such as iron and vitamin C. This can have immediate and long- term health consequences,” Dr Rhodes says.

“We also found that four out of five primary school-aged kids don’t know how to cook, or prepare food, and nearly half (44%) of teenagers rarely or never help to cook dinner.

“But if kids are involved in the kitchen it helps them to learn about food and they are also more likely to eat a meal if they have helped to prepare it,” Dr Rhodes added.

The poll also revealed that treats may no longer be treats, with parents reporting that almost half of pre-schoolers are regularly receiving treat foods most days of the week.

“Foods and drinks containing saturated fat, added salt and added sugars have been directly linked to serious health problems in children, such as obesity and tooth decay.”

“It’s recommended that treat foods such as lollies, chocolate, processed meat and fried food should be consumed by children infrequently and in small amounts, not on a daily basis,” Dr Rhodes adds.

Dr Rhodes said it was positive to see that most Aussie kids still get a home-cooked meal most nights of the week.

“It was great to see that most parents said their child has a home-cooked dinner most nights of the week, despite challenges such as a lack of time or energy.”

Overall key findings of the poll include;

  • Over half of parents (57%) say it is hard to know which foods are healthy choices when buying food for their family
  • Two thirds of parents (67%) find it hard to know how much added sugar is in the food products they buy for their children
  • A third of children (35%) regularly consume sugar-sweetened drinks, with one in six preschoolers having sugar-sweetened drinks almost every day
  • Over a quarter of parents (26%) mistakenly believe fruit drinks may be a healthier choice than water
  • Almost a third (29%) of parents incorrectly believe children may need sports drinks to recover from regular physical activity.
  • More than a third (37%) of school aged children have not been taught how to cook or prepare food and almost half (44%) of teenagers rarely or never help to make dinner
  • Despite one in four Australian children being overweight or obese, only one in eight children in this poll were considered to be overweight or obese by their parents
  • Parents also indicate cost is a barrier to making healthy food choices, with three quarters (77%) of parents saying that they believe healthy food is generally more expensive than unhealthy food.

You can read the full report looking at children's eating habits here.