Mums urged to make Sugar Swaps to improve children’s health

editorial image

More than 30 per cent of children in the last year at primary school in Northamptonshire are overweight or obese.

A new Change4Life campaign launched today (Monday, January 5) by Public Health England encourages parents to cut down the amount of sugar their children consume by making one or more simple swaps.

Eating and drinking too much sugar means extra calories, which causes fat to build up inside the body. This can lead to heart disease, some cancers or type 2 diabetes later in life.

Sugar can also have a devastating impact upon dental health, an integral part of overall health. Tooth decay was the most common reason for hospital admissions for children aged five to nine in 2012-13. twenty-eightper cent of five-year-olds in England have tooth decay and of these, 24 per cent have five or more teeth affected. When children are not healthy this affects their ability to learn, thrive and develop.

In Northamptonshire 21.4 per cent of children start school either overweight or obese, this then becomes 30.8 per cent for those in their last year of primary school. Children who are overweight or obese when they are young are far more likely to become overweight or obese adults and these figures demonstrate the increasing need to address children’s diet and limit future health problems.

While guidelines state that no more that 10 per cent of a person’s daily energy or calorie intake should be made up of sugar, at present, children aged four-10 years are consuming up to 50 per cent more than this. Children aged 4-10 get 17 per cent of their daily sugar from soft drinks; 17 per cent from biscuits, buns, cakes, pastries and fruit pies, 14 per cent from confectionery, 13 per cent from fruit juice, and eight per cent from breakfast cereals.

Change4Life Sugar Swaps launches following a new survey amongst Netmums users who were polled on their views on sugar. The results highlight that nearly half (47 per cent) of mums surveyed think their family has too much sugar in their diets and two thirds of mums (67 per cent) are worried about the amount of sugar their children consume.

Change4Life recommends four simple Sugar Swaps for mums to choose from, tackling different ‘sugar occasions’ in the day:

The Breakfast Swap: sugary cereal for plain cereal e.g. wholewheat biscuit cereal

The Drink Swap: e.g. from sugary drinks to sugar-free or no-added-sugar drinks

The After School Swap: for example from muffins to fruited teacake

The Pudding Swap: for example from ice cream to low-fat lower-sugar yoghurt

To understand the sugar issue from mums’ perspective, Public Health England partnered up with Netmums and the University of Reading to deliver a ‘Family Sugar Challenge’. A unique activity that involved 50 families, 24 of which were selected based on their geographical location for the initial analysis. The diets of the families were analysed in terms of sugar content, before and during the Change4Life’s Sugar Swaps. This early analysis yielded surprising results:

On average the families were consuming 483g of sugar a day at the beginning of the challenge

Their sugar intake was reduced to 287g per day when making Sugar Swaps

This meant an average daily saving of 196g of sugar per family each day, or 49 sugar cubes

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, commented: “Reducing sugar intake is important for the health of our children both now and in the future. We are all eating too much sugar and the impact this has on our health is evident.

“This campaign is about taking small steps to address this. We know from past campaigns that making simple swaps works and makes a real difference. This year we wanted to be even more single minded in our approach, which is why we are focusing on sugar alone.

“The family challenge highlights that simple swaps could lead to big changes if sustained over time and we’d urge Northamptonshire parents to try one more simple swap in January and beyond.”

Cathy Court, founder of Netmums, said: “We know that mums want to provide a healthy diet for their children but balancing a number of competing priorities, including healthy eating, can be tricky. Although sugar consumption is a worry for parents, we understand that taking steps to reduce sugar can be really difficult. We hope that these simple Sugar Swaps from Change4Life will make it easier for parents to reduce their family’s sugar intake.”

Throughout the campaign, families will be able to register for their free Sugar Swaps pack which they will receive through the post. The packs are filled with hints, tips and recipe suggestions designed to help parents cut down the sugary foods and drinks consumed by their children, plus money-off vouchers, swap cards and stickers. To sign up, families just need to search Change4Life and register.