United Kingdom

Children eat most sugar at home as study finds cereals and ready meals are fuelling obesity crisis

Children consume more sugar from meals at home than at school or in snacks, a study suggests.

The findings claim cereal, ready meals and desserts are fuelling obesity and tooth decay more than sweets.

Scientists say parents should reconsider what they serve for breakfast and dinner to protect their children’s health.

They recommend scrapping a daily pudding, replacing fizzy drinks with water and looking for hidden sugar in sauces.

Nutritionists at the University of Birmingham analysed the diets of 813 pupils aged 11 to 15 from 12 schools in the West Midlands.

Children consume more sugar from meals at home than at school or in snacks, a study suggests, as findings claim cereal, ready meals and desserts are fuelling obesity and tooth decay more than sweets (file photo) 

They found the median daily intake of free sugar – which is any sugar added to a food or drink or found naturally in honey, syrup and fruit juice – was 57.2g. This is equal to 14 teaspoons of sugar a day. Median intake in school was 14.5g but was more than double outside of school.

The term free sugar refers to sugars that have been separated from the cellular structure of the food we eat – making them easier to consume.

The study also found average sugar intake was higher at breakfast than at any other meal or snack time – at 8.8g.

Median intake of sugar from morning, afternoon or evening snacks was zero – meaning at least half of children had no sugar at these times.

Researchers said there were no statistically significant differences in free sugar intake associated with age, gender, ethnicity or deprivation. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition says free sugar should be limited to 5 per cent of daily energy intake.

But it is estimated adolescents consume three times that at 15.6 per cent.

Study author Dr Miranda Pallan said: ‘I think parents will be surprised to learn most of their children’s free sugar intake is coming from food eaten at home. While children of secondary school age often have a say in what they eat for their breakfast and evening meal, parents can have an impact.’

Colleague Abigail Stewart added: ‘As most interventions to reduce [child] obesity have been based in school, it is important to consider targeting interventions to reduce child obesity and free sugar consumption at home at main mealtimes.’

The findings will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity today. 

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