Soft drinks - a growing focus on health and wellbeing

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With an ongoing focus on the health and wellbeing of the nation, children’s health as well as food and drink in schools continues, rightly, to be in the spotlight.

The choice of food and drink available to us has never been greater enabling people to choose what they are eating and drinking according to their need and the occasion. This growth in availability of products has meant questions are being asked about the type of products we, as a nation, are consuming and what changes perhaps need to be made to ensure people are maintaining a healthy balanced diet.

With particular attention being paid to children’s consumption of food and drink, the British Soft Drinks Association decided to undertake research with an independent expert analyst company (TNS) to find out what children were consuming in terms of soft drinks, what patterns were emerging and how such patterns had changed over time. This research also looked at soft drinks consumed in schools by children and parental attitudes.

With so much speculation about children’s consumption habits, what are children actually drinking and has this really changed over the years?

Cold drinks make up a much bigger proportion of children’s diets than for adults and this pattern has not changed significantly over the last ten years. The main changes that we have seen occurring are the choices children are making within the range of cold drinks available. The research shows that children now have a wide range of drinks to choose from and have a more balanced repertoire than ten years ago. For all ages, squash remains a very popular, low-cost drink choice – milk has also become increasingly popular as has fruit juice and juice drinks.

The growth in fruit juice and juice drinks mirrors the growing focus on health and wellbeing and the desire for products with more ‘natural’ ingredients. The increasing awareness of the importance of meeting the government’s five portions of fruit and vegetables a day target and the fact that a glass of fruit juice counts as one portion has also helped fruit juice remain a popular drinks choice for both children and adults.

Breaking these results down according to age group (see accompanying graphs) – amongst the youngest children surveyed (0-4 years old), squash and milk account for over two thirds of drinks choices, with squash accounting for 35% of drinks consumed and milk 34%. For 5-9 year olds, juice and juice drinks are increasing in popularity, having risen from 13% of drinks consumed in 2003 to 23% in 2007. Carbonates consumption for this age group has decreased from 21% of drinks in 1993 to 11% in 2007.

For 10-12 year olds squash, juice and juice drinks are again the most popular – squash accounts for 29% of drinks choices, juice and juice drinks 19%. Carbonates consumption has declined from 30% in 2000 to 17% in 2007. For 13-15 year olds, we see a very balanced drinks repertoire with squash, juice and juice drinks and carbonates all proving popular. Squash accounts for 22% of drinks chosen, carbonates 24% and juice and juice drinks 18%.

The growth in no added sugar drinks

Consumption of no added sugar drinks has also increased over the last five years. In 2004, 46% of drinks consumed were no added sugar beverages, this figure rose to 55% in 2007. This is consistent among children across age and genders, with the exception of teenage girls who consume more no added sugar soft drinks than teenage boys.
What are children drinking in and out of school?

The vast majority of drinks consumed in schools (71%) are brought there in children’s lunchboxes: 26% are obtained in schools themselves and a small proportion - just 3% - are obtained by children elsewhere. Squash was the main drink provided by parents and milk and tap water made up over 50% of drinks consumed in school. When obtained elsewhere, bottled water is the most popular choice, accounting for 21% of drinks choices with carbonates accounting for 18%.

It is important to note that this research was conducted when the regulations governing drinks in schools only applied to lunches provided at school but not to other parts of the school day – these regulations have since been extended to cover the whole day.

Children’s drinks choices do not vary greatly when they are at home. Squash remains the favourite with juice, juice drinks and milk also proving popular. For 11-16 year olds we see an increased proportion of children opting for more adult-orientated drinks such as carbonates (21%).

The choices children are making when with their parents are not strikingly different. The only shift observed was the growth in tea consumption - tea is up to four times more likely to be consumed when children are with their parents.

Parental attitudes to children’s consumption of soft drinks

Encouragingly the research found that parents want to play an active role in ensuring their children have a balanced diet and want to set a good example so children understand the need to maintain a healthy active lifestyle – 78% of those surveyed said that it was important for parents to eat healthily to set an example.

How this research is reflected in the soft drinks market

This research into children’s consumption of soft drinks shows that children are consuming a wide variety of soft drinks – this is reflected in the diversity of drinks produced by the industry.

Health and wellbeing is now a core area of focus for the soft drinks industry and this is reflected in the growth in new products being developed to meet people’s changing preferences and needs. 61% of soft drinks are now low calorie, diet and no added sugar drinks, products with ‘natural’ ingredients as well as those that provide functional benefits are continually being introduced onto the market and nutrition labelling is now provided on soft drinks to allow people to make an informed choice about the products they are consuming.

The soft drinks industry is committed to encouraging people to maintain a healthy balanced diet and active lifestyle – the range of products and pack sizes offered enables parents to choose drinks that meet their children’s needs and ensure they stay refreshed and hydrated throughout the day.