Parents try to provide their children with healthful diets, and thus many avoid full calorie soft drinks because they re concerned about the sugar such beverages contain. Instead, they often turn to fruit drinks because everyone knows that fruits are healthy. An important fact about fruit drinks that parents may not be aware of is that such drinks contain only ten percent or less real fruit juice by definition.
And a new study published in Public Health Nutrition finds that parents are often unaware of the sugar content of fruit drinks, sports drinks and flavored waters. Christina R. Munsel and colleagues of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (recently relocated to the University of Connecticut) evaluated the results of an online survey of nearly 1000 parents of 2- to 17-year-olds. Parents provided the categories and brands of sugary drinks they gave their children. In addition, they indicated which categories and brands they thought were healthy options. Ingredients of concern included caffeine, sugar and artificial sweeteners. Approximately one-third of participants reported that their purchase choices were significantly influenced by ingredient claims on package labels.
Eighty percent of the responding parents were women. Twenty-one percent of the children were 2-5 years old, 32 percent were 6-11 years old, and 47 percent were 12-17 years old. The investigators found that 88 percent of respondents rated all fruit juices as somewhat or very healthy, while only 5 percent put soda in the same category. Nearly half thought flavored waters were healthy, and over 25 percent put fruit drinks and sports drinks in that category. Not surprisingly, more parents who provided a particular category of beverage for their children thought they were healthy than parents who did not provide them - only 4 percent of parents questioned provided none of the categories of drink in question.
The researchers reported that misperceptions about fruit drinks were common 80 percent of parents with children under 12 years old said they provided their children with such drinks, even though these drinks contain the same amount of sugar on average as regular soda and typically contain 10% fruit juice or less. Further, parents were ten times more likely to consider flavored waters to be healthy and six times more likely to consider fruit drinks to be healthy compared with regular soda. Parents also relied on ingredient claims on packages to help them decide which drinks were healthy.
ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava commented, While we don t believe that sugar per se is toxic for children, it is important to adhere to the adage, everything in moderation. Further, while sodas are vilified because of their sugar content, obviously parents are not aware that other sweetened beverages contain an equal amount of sugar. Thus, public health messages should certainly alert parents to these facts and emphasize that the truth about ingredients can be found on the back of packaged drinks, not in many of the claims on the front.