Only half of parents encourage children to eat healthy diet

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Nearly half of parents are doing little to ensure that their children eat a healthy diet, despite the growing concern over childhood obesity, research indicates.

Nearly half of parents are doing little to ensure that their children eat a healthy diet, despite the growing concern over childhood obesity, research indicates.

Although the majority of parents claim that they try to make their offspring eat healthily, only about half of families are actually doing anything about it, a report on childhood obesity by the consumer researcher Mintel found.

Just over half of parents claimed they tried to limit the amount of sugar eaten by their offspring, the poll of 25,000 parents found. Meanwhile, only 42 per cent had done anything to restrict the amount of high-fat food eaten by youngsters.

One in three families reported they had little interest in their children's eating habits and were "relaxed" about their diets while one in six described themselves as "indulgent parents" who would give their child what they wanted whether it was healthy or not.

Maria Elustondo, a senior market analyst for Mintel, said the findings showed that parents needed to do more to ensure their children ate healthy diets.

She said: "The time has come to take action and to move away from simply who is to blame. Although messages about the importance of leading a healthy life seem to be getting through, too many parents are still unsure about how to put a healthy diet into practice. Parents need practical suggestions, such as how to ensure their child eats five portions of fruit and veg a day, to make leading a healthy life as easy as possible."

But Jane Landon, the associate director of the National Heart Forum, which launched its recommendations for healthy eating in schools this month, said most parents were deeply concerned about their children's diet.

She said: "I think that some parents are confused by misleading advertising which makes them choose high-fat or high-sugar products. Parents may ... give their children jelly sweets which highlight their fruit content but are really mostly sugar."

Ms Landon said the survey also showed the importance of healthy eating education and nutritious food in schools. "We also need to address children's eating during the times they are not with their parents."

The researchers also interviewed 4,500 children and found that although the majority (72 per cent) claimed to know about the importance of a balanced diet, many did not seem to be putting this into practice.

More than two-thirds said they often ate between meals and more than half claimed to eat whatever they like. The top five snacks of choice were: potato crisps (41 per cent), chocolate (39 per cent), fruit (35 per cent), sweets (29 per cent) and sweet biscuits (22 per cent).

Girls were more interested than boys in healthy eating, with three-quarters of girls understanding the importance of a balanced diet, compared with 68 per cent of boys. A third of children said they often tried to lose weight - whether they needed to or not - and a similar proportion said they ate when they were sad. Girls were twice as likely as boys to be trying to lose weight, and were more likely to feel guilty about eating and to eat for comfort.

Ms Elustondo also called for children to spend less time in front of the television and lead more active lives if they were to avoid obesity.

She added: "Children need to be educated on the benefits of a healthy diet for themselves, in order to understand how it affects their lifestyles."