Parents have a good understanding of what constitutes healthy eating, but this is not being translated into the necessary improvements in their children’s diet.

This is a key finding from new research by Hovis that showed almost a third of parents admitted they struggled to ensure their children ate healthily. As a result, they relied on food manufacturers to help them by supplying pro-ducts with added goodness.

More than two-thirds of the 1,280 parents surveyed, who all had children aged under 16, said they bought foods with added nutrients. However, 87% confessed they had to ‘sneak’ the goodness into their children’s food.

Lower social grades

There is a significantly higher level of foods with added nutrients bought among social grades C2 and DE than among ABs or C1s. The average level among the latter two is 62.5% whereas it is 74.5% for the C2/DE categories. The purchase of foods with added nutrients is at a level of 75% for those parents aged under 30 when their children are born, compared to 63% for those aged over 30.

Overall, 72% of parents of under-16s claimed their child understood about diet and healthy eating, but, on average, that child eats just under two pieces of fruit and vegetables every day. Another statistic of concern is that for children aged 14-15, one boy in seven and one girl in five admitted to skipping breakfast.

To encourage healthy eating, parents are resorting to rewards. Exactly half of all parents of under-16s admitted to using the tactic of allowing their kids to have sweets, chocolates or desserts in exchange for eating the healthy components of their meal. The practice peaks at 68% for children aged four.

An alternative to sweet rewards is allowing children to watch TV or play video games for longer than normal – a tactic used by 43% of parents.

Health advice

Contrary to what might be expected, advice on healthy eating from friends and other parents is not prevalent. Just 2% of interviewees said it is their prime source of information. TV programmes dominate as an information source for 20% of parents, followed by newspapers and magazines (15%), books (12%) and mothers/female relatives (10%).

Food manufacturers are a prime source of information for just 1% of parents, a level matched by government. Clearly, say Hovis’ researchers, this leaves work to be done for them to meet their social responsibility in providing clear, reliable and accessible information.

Hovis commissioned the research as part of its focus on healthy eating, in particular to try to understand the barriers parents face in getting their offspring to eat a balanced diet. Hovis says it remains the only major bread brand free from artificial flavourings and preservatives. Last year it made an average 10% salt reduction across its range, it claims.