Dr Anthea Rhodes, director of the RCH National Child Health Poll and RCH paediatrician, says 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,” she says.
“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.
“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 added.
Parents report most children (71%) have adequate daily fruit intake. However, reported fruit intake decreased steadily with age, with 93% of children aged between one and three years meeting the daily requirement, decreasing to 83% of pre-schoolers, 69% of primary school-aged children and only half (56%) of teenagers.
Aussie kids also aren’t getting the daily recommended intake of vegetables with the poll revealing that more than nine out of ten (95%) of 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.
Of children aged one to three, 37% consumed the recommended amount of vegetables, 18% of pre-schoolers, and 5% of primary school-aged and teenage children.
“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.
Dr Rhodes says it is 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.”
Parents’ understanding of food, nutrition and weight revealed misunderstandings around diet and exercise.
One in five parents (21%) incorrectly believe that a child's weight is mostly due to genetics and cannot be changed by diet or activity and a further quarter (22%) of parents are unsure about whether weight could be changed by diet or activity.
Sixteen per cent of parents think overweight children will naturally lose their excess weight as they get older. Almost one in five parents don't recognise that eating patterns established in childhood continue into adulthood.