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Keep a closer eye on eating habits

Children eat more sweets and other high-sugar products at weekends and during holidays than they do on weekdays. This is suggested by the results of the European IDEFICS study, which focused on the identification and prevention of health-related consequences of diet and lifestyle in children. Researchers suggest taking a closer look at the family’s eating habits.

An overview of the study

For the study, the parents of approximately 9,500 children aged two to nine filled in a computer-assisted 24-hour dietary protocol. The high-sugar products included not only sweets and chocolate, but also baked goods, muesli and breakfast cereals, ice cream, yoghurts, bread toppings such as honey and jam, pudding sauces and soft drinks. The boys and girls came from Germany, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden. The study was directed by the University of Bremen together with the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology (BIPS). Other research institutions in eleven EU countries collaborated in the study.

Higher sugar consumption at weekends

Results showed that the young participants had a high sugar intake. In all countries, with the exception of Estonia (19 %), high-sugar foods constituted more than 20 per cent of their daily energy intake. In Germany the proportion was as high as 30 per cent on average. On Fridays and at weekends, there was a slight increase in sugar consumption. It seems that some parents give their children more sweets at the end of a stressful week at school. When comparing their daily energy intake on Saturdays and Sundays to the rest of the week, it remained essentially constant, which suggests that they ate less of the other foods.

 

One of the most important measures to improve children’s diets is a reduction in the amount of sugar they consume. To this end, the researchers concluded that weekend eating habits in particular should be examined.

Advice for a healthier diet

There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, but they must not be used as a reward. “Ideally, you should establish family rules for eating treats, for example: Treats are allowed only once a day, or only after meals,” says nutritionist Harald Seitz. This is because consuming too much sugar for a prolonged period increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity. This can result in high blood pressure and heart disease. “A lot of parents forget that sweetened drinks, and lemonades in particular, contain a lot of sugar, and therefore a lot of calories. It is always a good idea to pay attention to one’s own children’s dietary habits without having to make any prohibitions. Especially when we show by example that sweet treats are part of our diet, though in moderation,” Seitz says.

 

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de

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