Irish parents believe exercise is the most important step in improving children’s health

March 29, 2017

As rising obesity rates continue to present a challenge to consumers young and old, new research from Mintel reveals that Irish parents believe exercise is the most important step in improving the health of children in Northern Ireland (NI) and the Republic of Ireland (RoI). Indeed, some 46% of NI and 57% of RoI parents identify regular exercise as an important step to improving their children’s health and diet. Ranking second on the list, 39% of RoI and 40% of NI parents say that avoiding foods that are high in sugar is important, while 30% of RoI and 33% of NI say giving kids appropriate portion sizes is necessary.

Ranking at the bottom of the list, just 8% of RoI and 10% of NI parents say that not allowing children to snack between meals is important, while 11% and 12% respectively say that enforcing a strict bedtime is necessary for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Currently, one quarter of parents in RoI (24%) and NI (25%) say they worry about their children’s weight, while nearly one third (30% and 32% respectively) say that they do not trust their children to eat healthily on their own. However, it seems that not everyone is concerned, as 14% of RoI and 19% of NI parents agree that there is too much worry about children’s health these days.

James Wilson, Research Analyst at Mintel, said:

“For Irish parents, regular exercise is considered to be the most important step to improving their children’s health and diet. Physical inactivity is high among Irish children and is being driven by their increased usage of technology. Brands could look to utilise bloggers and vloggers to encourage children to be more active. Such an approach offers brands the opportunity to extend their influence into new areas and play a positive role during children’s crucial formative years, actively tackling childhood obesity levels.”

While avoiding foods that are high in sugar is top of mind for parents, avoiding salt and fat is also deemed necessary. As many as 19% of RoI and 24% of NI parents agree that avoiding foods high in salt is important for their children’s health, while 19% of RoI and 21% of NI parents say the same of avoiding foods high in fat.

And it seems that food and drink brands are innovating to address these concerns. According to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), the number of food and drink products launched targeting children and featuring a low, no or reduced sugar claim increased by 55% between 2012 and 2016 in the UK and Ireland. However, the number of launches including a low, no or reduced salt claim fell by 37% in the same time period, and the number carrying a reduced fat claim declined by 61%.

“Brands are now focusing their efforts on reducing the sugar content in their food and drink products as a result of significant media attention and previous efforts that primarily focused on reducing salt and fat content. This indicates that there is a growing market for free-from children’s foods. Brands should look to accentuate what is not in a product as much as what is, guiding parents in making better choices to improve their children’s diets.” James adds.

Meanwhile, when it comes to day-to-day shopping it seems that dangers and temptations are lurking everywhere. One in five NI (19%) and RoI parents (19%) agree that it is difficult to say no to their kids when shopping, while 20% of NI parents and 26% of RoI parents avoid grocery shopping with their children altogether.

Products with colourful packaging and those that feature cartoon characters are especially attractive to children, according to 42% of NI parents and 34% of RoI parents. Mintel research reveals that advertising also plays a definitive role in influencing what children want to to buy in stores, as reported by three in 10 (29%) NI and RoI parents.

In order to soothe parents’ angst, Mintel research indicates that more than one third of NI (35%) and RoI (34%) parents would use schemes offering free healthy snacks in-store for children. Additionally, it seems for many it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind as nearly half of NI (46% ) and RoI (49%) parents say they would prefer it if sweets were not sold at checkouts.

“Retailers could replace checkout sweets with lower calorie, health-oriented products to increase appeal among parents. Alternatively, those who still wish to sell sweets at the till could compromise by following the principle of retailers that do and do not permit the sale of alcohol at checkout and introduce designated sweet-free checkouts to enable parents to avoid them and reduce the occurrence of pester power for unhealthy snacks from children.” James concludes.

Press review copies of the Children’s Eating Habits Ireland 2017 report and interviews with James Wilson, Research Analyst, are available on request from the press office.


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