The research carried out by the UK-based Engine House consultancy found 47 per cent of UK parents regard their children's diet and exercise as one of the top three things they worry about. For 8 per cent this issue is the most important concern today.
Half of all those surveyed said they had concerns about the amount of junk food their children consume. The level of additives in their children's diet is causing the most distress with 81 per cent either concerned or very concerned but the amount of sugar consumed is also a major issue for 69 per cent of parents. More than half of those surveyed are anxious about the calories in their children's diet.
More than 40 per cent of parents fear that their children are not eating enough fruit and vegetables, and the same percentage are worried about the levels of vitamins and minerals being consumed, found the survey, carried out during November and December last year.
"There is obviously a major opportunity for food and drink manufacturers to make healthier products for children, which would be welcomed with open arms by the vast majority of parents," said Howard Barnes, managing director of The Engine House, a new consultancy specialising in healthcare, food and nutrition.
Many parents are already making moves to improve their children's diet with a staggering 81 per cent limiting the amount of carbonated drinks their children drink, and 14 per cent banning carbonated drinks entirely.
Barnes, previously European director of the functional foods and nutrition division of Johnson and Johnson, says he firmly believes that a major shift in both public and government opinion is just beginning.
"We recently saw the government intervening on this issue of advertising food to children. The staggering fact remains that, according to the Food Standards Agency, one in 10 six-year-olds is obese," he noted.
"There is a terrific future for companies that respond to this demand for healthier food and also for those that take advantage of the advances in functional food science," added Barnes.
The UK's Food Standards Agency last year carried out a review of the evidence showing that advertising affects children's food choices and behaviour. It concluded that advertising does not only impact which brands children choose but also the types of food they choose. The review, published in September, further fuelled the debate about the food industry's responsibility for improving public health through promoting healthy eating.
A public debate to discuss food promotion to children and the effect it has on poor diets and rising levels of childhood obesity takes place on 27 January 2004 in London at the QE2 conference centre. Contact the FSA for further details.