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Impact of a health marketing campaign on sugars intake by children aged 5–11 years and parental views on reducing children’s consumption

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jennifer BradleyORCiD, Grace Gardner, Maisie Rowland, Dr Michaela Fay, Dr Richard HolmesORCiD, Dr Emma Foster, Professor Catherine Exley



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Background: The association between Free Sugars intake and non-communicable diseases such as obesity and dental caries is well documented and several countries are taking measures to reduce sugars intakes. Public Health England (PHE) instigated a range of approaches to reduce sugars, including a national health marketing campaign (Sugar Smart). The campaign aimed to raise awareness of the amount of sugars in foods and drinks and to encourage parents to reduce their children’s intake. The aim of this study was to determine whether the campaign was effective in altering dietary behaviour, by assessing any impact of the campaign on sugars intake among children aged 5–11 years. Parental perceptions of the campaign and barriers to reducing sugars intake were also explored.Methods: Parents of 873 children aged 5–11 years, identified from an existing PHE database, were invited to take part. Dietary information was collected online using Intake24 before, during, and at 1, 10 and 12 months following the campaign. Change in sugars intake was assessed using mixed effects linear regression models. One-to-one telephone interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of parents to explore perceptions of the campaign and identify barriers and facilitators to reducing children’s sugars intake.Results: Completion rates for dietary assessment ranged from 61 to 72% across the follow up time points. Qualitative telephone interviews were conducted with 20 parents. Total sugars intake decreased on average by ~ 6.2 g/day (SD 43.8) at peak campaign and the percentage of energy from total sugars significantly decreased immediately and 1 year post campaign. The percentage of energy from Free Sugars significantly decreased across all time points with the exception of the long term follow up at 12-months post campaign. The percentage of energy intake from total fat increased. Parents expressed a willingness to reduce sugars intakes, however, identified barriers including time constraints, the normalisation of sugary treats, and confusing information.Conclusions: A health marketing campaign had a positive impact in reducing sugars intake but reductions in sugars were not sustained. Parents want to reduce their child’s sugars intake but societal barriers and confusion over which sources of sugars to avoid hamper efforts to change.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bradley J, Gardner G, Rowland MK, Fay M, Mann K, Holmes R, Foster E, Exley C, Don Bosco A, Hugueniot O, Moynihan P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: BMC Public Health

Year: 2020

Volume: 20

Online publication date: 30/03/2020

Acceptance date: 27/02/2020

Date deposited: 31/03/2020

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2458

Publisher: BMC


DOI: 10.1186/s12889-020-8422-5


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