Getting the recipe right to tackle child obesity: parents say getting kids cooking should be top priority as 84% worry about how their child eats

Parents say giving children more opportunities to learn to cook would help them the most in trying to get kids eating better – a measure left out of the government’s recently-launched action plan.

Giving children more chances to learn to cook, slashing the number of supermarket special offers on junk food and banning the sale of sweets, chocolate and sugary drinks in leisure centres are the steps parents say would be most helpful to get children eating better – according to our new survey.

In the poll by Opinium Research, only one of the top five measures recommended by parents appears in the government’s recently-published childhood obesity action plan. More than one in five parents (28%) said that giving children more opportunities to learn to cook from scratch would be most likely to help their children eat more healthily in future. A similar proportion (26%) opted for cutting the number of price promotions on less healthy foods at the supermarket in favour of discounts on healthier products, while one in five (22%) didn’t want to see chocolate, crisps and sugary drinks being sold in places where children go to be active. Not having junk food at eye level for children and tighter rules on advertising it to children on TV, online and at events were equally popular options chosen by parents, the majority of whom (84%) say that they worry about how their child eats.

It comes as our new analysis with Kantar Worldpanel reveals that while bananas, apples, carrots and cucumber were the fruits and vegetables eaten most often by children in the last year, a chocolate-flavoured product was the top choice among breakfast cereals. Biscuits and frozen potato products like smiley faces and waffles were among the top twenty other most-consumed types of foods by 0-15 year-olds.

Our Head of Research, Jo Nicholas, says: “Parents are the front line of getting every child eating well – which is such a tough task when we’re all bombarded by cheap, less healthy processed food at every turn.

“But the things parents are telling us would most help them to help their children, like getting kids cooking and banning junk food advertising in family TV, have been left out of the government’s current plan completely.

“We all agree that every part of society has a part to play in making today’s children the healthier adults of the future but it’s mums, dads and carers who ultimately have the biggest pressure on them to deliver here. Government described its childhood obesity action plan as the start of a conversation, and parents must be a part of that.”

Other measures parents backed include:

  • Offering only fruit and yoghurt for pudding in school canteens on at least a few days each week (16%)
  • Including the cost of healthy meals and snacks in free childcare (15%)
  • Banning the use of characters which appeal to children in the advertising of less healthy foods, and on packaging of less healthy products (15%)
  • Nutrition labels which are easier to understand (15%)
  • Help for every nursery and school to bring in a packed lunch policy (10%)

Among the worries raised most frequently by parents were their child not eating enough fruit and vegetables, eating too many sweets and other sugary products, and fussy eating.

Jo added: “The latest national dietary data shows that children are still failing to eat enough fruit and veg, but get too much sugar and saturated fat, so we’ve all got a huge task on our hands. We want to see the obesity plan make a real difference so we need a clear map of all of the additional steps our country will need to take to address the biggest public health challenge we face.”

The survey amongst a nationally representative sample of 2,001 UK adults was conducted by Opinium Research between 23rd to 26th September 2016. This included 654 parents of children aged 1 to 18.

Kantar data:

Graph of data on children's consumption 2015-16












Graph of data on national product consumption 2015-16