Many children are treated to ice creams and other delights during the summer holidays, or on family days out at weekends. But parents with concerns about their children’s overall sugar intake are being advised to pay more attention to their family’s diet on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, after a European study revealed that children’s consumption of sugar is higher at these times than on other weekdays.
The paper “European children’s sugar intake on weekdays versus weekends”, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (EJCN (2014) 68: 822–828 – 14 May 2014), was based on data from the EU-funded IDEFICS Study (2006-2012), led by the University of Bremen together with Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS in Bremen – involving 23 research institutes and small-to-medium sized enterprises across 11 EU countries.
Close to 9,500 children aged 2-9 were included in the analysis, divided into preschool (2 years to under 6) and school age (6 – 9 years). A computer-based tool for 24-hour dietary recall was completed by parents or primary care givers. The children involved reported a high sugar intake during the week and this intake increased somewhat on Fridays and at weekends. In addition to candy and chocolate, this also included foods with high sugar content: grain products such as baked goods and breakfast cereal / muesli, milk products such as ice cream and yogurt, spreads such as honey and jam, dessert sauces and sugary drinks.
While it is not unusual for parents to give extra treats to their children after a busy week at school, or on special days out at weekends and during holidays, the study’s findings could provide a useful framework for families wishing to adopt a healthier lifestyle overall. “Defining when children’s dietary habits are less healthy can help guide interventions to promote healthy eating,” explains study author Åsa Svensson from Umeå University in Sweden. “When attempting to reduce children’s intake of total sugars, our results suggest that it is especially important for parents to target family dietary habits during Fridays and at weekends, when they may have greater control over what their children are eating.”
Garrath Williams from the University of Lancaster in UK and lead researcher for ethics and policy in the I.Family study offers a wider interpretation of the data and its findings on children’s overall sugar intake: “I think the main thing to emphasize is the high average consumption of sugar on weekdays as well as weekends. Both schools and parents should be concerned about this – and so should the companies who design and market ‘kids’ foods’.”
Reducing sugar intake is one of the most important dietary interventions to improve childhood nutrition. High sugar consumption is linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, increasing later risks of hypertension and coronary heart disease. The EU-funded I.Family Study is continuing to monitor the children first enrolled in the IDEFICS Study as they move into adolescence, identifying the main barriers and motivators towards healthy food and lifestyle choices in European families.
“European children’s sugar intake on weekdays versus weekends: the IDEFICS study”
Å Svensson, C Larsson, G Eiben, A Lanfer, V Pala, A Hebestreit, I Huybrechts, JM Fernández-Alvira, P Russo, AC Koni, S De Henauw, T Veidebaum, D Molnár and L Lissner on behalf of the IDEFICS consortium. Available online here – http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v68/n7/full/ejcn201487a.html
Media contact for I.Family Study
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Interviews available with study co-author Professor Christel Larrson, Department of Food & Nutrition, Umeå University, and Dr Garrath Williams, University of Lancaster.