Public Health Nutrition

Research Papers

HOT TOPIC – Childhood obesity

Parents’ beliefs about the healthfulness of sugary drink options: opportunities to address misperceptions

Christina R Munsella1, Jennifer L Harrisa1 c1, Vishnudas Sardaa1a2 and Marlene B Schwartza1

a1 Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, 309 Edwards Street, New Haven, CT 06511, USA

a2 Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA, USA


Objective To assess potential misperceptions among parents regarding the healthfulness of sugary drinks for their children.

Design Online survey of parents. Participants identified the categories and specific brands of sugary drinks they provided for their children. They also indicated their perceptions of sugary drink categories and brands as healthy options for children, perceived importance of on-package claims in purchase decisions and their concerns about common sugary drink ingredients.

Setting Online market research panel.

Subjects Parents (n 982) of 2- to 17-year-olds, 46 % non-white or Hispanic.

Results Ninety-six per cent of parents provided on average 2·9 different categories of sugary drinks for their children in the past month. Flavoured waters, fruit drinks and sports drinks were rated as the healthiest sugary drink categories. Across all categories and brands, parents who purchased specific products rated them as significantly healthier than those who did not (P<0·05). Over half of parents reported concern about caffeine, sugar and artificial sweeteners in sugary drinks that their children consume and approximately one-third reported that on-package ingredient claims were important in their purchase decisions.

Conclusions Nearly all parents provide sugary drinks for their children and many believe that some sugary drinks are healthy options for children, particularly flavoured waters, fruit drinks and sports drinks. Furthermore, many parents rely upon on-package claims in their purchase decisions. Given excessive consumption of added sugar by children in the home, there is a continuing need to address parents’ misperceptions about the healthfulness of many sugary drink products.

(Received June 09 2014)

(Revised December 19 2014)

(Accepted January 13 2015)

(Online publication March 11 2015)


  • Sugary beverages;
  • Food beliefs;
  • Parents;
  • Children


c1 Corresponding author: Email