Study reveals high sugar intake in European children

Many children are treated to ice creams and other delights during the summer holidays, or on family days out at weekends. 

But parents with concerns about their children’s overall sugar intake are being advised to pay more attention to their family’s diet on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, after a European study revealed that children’s consumption of sugar is higher at these times than on other weekdays.

The paper “European children’s sugar intake on weekdays versus weekends”, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (EJCN (2014) 68: 822–828 – 14 May 2014), was based on data from the EU-funded IDEFICS Study (2006-2012), led by the University of Bremen together with Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS in Bremen – involving 23 research institutes and small-to-medium sized enterprises across 11 EU countries.   Close to 9,500 children aged 2-9 were included in the analysis, divided into preschool (2 years to under 6) and school age (6 – 9 years).  A computer-based tool for 24-hour dietary recall was completed by parents or primary care givers.  The children involved reported a high sugar intake during the week and this intake increased somewhat on Fridays and at weekends.

While it is not unusual for parents to give extra treats to their children after a busy week at school, or on special days out at weekends and during holidays, the study’s findings could provide a useful framework for families wishing to adopt a healthier lifestyle overall.

“Defining when children’s dietary habits are less healthy can help guide interventions to promote healthy eating,” explains study author Åsa Svensson from Umeå University in Sweden.   “When attempting to reduce children’s intake of total sugars, our results suggest that it is especially important for parents to target family dietary habits during Fridays and at weekends, when they may have greater control over what their children are eating.”

Garrath Williams, lead researcher for ethics and policy in the I.Family study, offers a wider interpretation of the data and its findings on children’s overall sugar intake:  “I think the main thing to emphasize is the high average consumption of sugar on weekdays as well as weekends.  Both schools and parents should be concerned about this – and so should the companies who design and market ‘kids’ foods’.”

Reducing sugar intake is one of the most important dietary interventions to improve childhood nutrition.  High sugar consumption is linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, increasing later risks of hypertension and coronary heart disease.  The EU-funded I.Family Study is continuing to monitor the children first enrolled in the IDEFICS Study as they move into adolescence, identifying the main barriers and motivators towards healthy food and lifestyle choices in European families.

ENDS/Contacts and Notes follow

“European children’s sugar intake on weekdays versus weekends: the IDEFICS study”

Å Svensson, C Larsson, G Eiben, A Lanfer, V Pala, A Hebestreit, I Huybrechts, JM Fernández-Alvira, P Russo, AC Koni, S De Henauw, T Veidebaum, D Molnár and L Lissner on behalf of the IDEFICS consortium.  Available online here –

Media contact for I.Family Study –Kate Viggers/Rhonda Smith +44 (0) 1264 326427/+44 (0) 7887 714957. or rhonda@minervacomms.netInterviews available with study co-author Professor Christel Larrson, Department of Food & Nutrition, Umeå University, and Dr Garrath Williams, University of Lancaster.

Notes for Editors:

  1. The I.Family Study is an EC funded project under Framework 7 of the KBBE programme running from March 2012 to February 2017. It has 17 partners, working across 11 countries and with cohorts in 8 European countries – Germany, Italy, Sweden, Hungary, Cyprus, Estonia, Spain and Belgium.
  2. The study has two strategic objectives:
    (1) Understand the interplay between barriers against and drivers towards healthy food choice;
    (2) Develop and disseminate strategies to induce changes that promote healthy dietary behaviour in European consumers especially adolescents and their parents
  3. The I.Family Study is re-assessing the families first engaged with the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants Study (IDEFICS), when children were below 10 years of age, now that they move into adolescence – the ‘tween’ years – identifying those families that have adopted a healthy approach to food and eating habits and those that have not. I. Family is adopting a holistic approach by also investigating the biological, behavioural, social and environmental factors that drive dietary behaviour as children journey towards adulthood.

4. I.Family study partners

Participant organisation Lead investigator(s) Key responsibilities
University of Bremen, Germany Wolfgang Ahrens Project coordinator
Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS Iris Pigeot German cohort, statistics
Institute of Food Sciences, National Research Council, Italy Alfonso Siani Italian cohort, nutritional epidemiology
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark Lucia Reisch,
Wencke Gwozdz
Consumer behaviour & environmental influences
University of Lancaster, United Kingdom Garrath Williams Ethics, policy, and stakeholder engagement
Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden Staffan Mårild,
Lauren Lissner
Swedish cohort, family analysis
University of Helsinki, Finland Jaakko Kaprio Familial aggregation & genetic modelling
University of the Baleares Islands, Spain Andreu Palou,
Catalina Picó
Genomic analysis
University of Pécs, Hungary Dénes Molnár Hungarian cohort
Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, The Netherlands Roger Adan Neuroimaging & neuropsychology
Research and Education Institute of Child Health, Cyprus Michael Tornaritis Cypriot cohort
National Institute for Health Development, Estonia Toomas Veidebaum Estonian cohort
Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale Tumori, Italy Vittorio Krogh Dietary assessment methods
University of Bristol, United Kingdom Angie Page,
Ashley Cooper
Physical activity monitoring
Minerva PRC Ltd, United Kingdom Rhonda Smith
Kate Viggers
Dissemination and communication
University of Zaragoza, Spain Luis Moreno Spanish cohort
Ghent University, Belgium Stefaan De Henauw Belgian cohort




This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration


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