Focus group with parents on their perceptions of sugar and stevia
Cardiff Metropolitan University
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Background As the UK prevalence of childhood obesity increases, there is continued controversy over the impact of excess sugar consumption and whether sweeteners can provide an acceptable alternative to sugar, combating its increase in consumption. Method A cross–sectional study was used for this research, with a focus group and taste sensory analysis conducted to gain parents’ perspectives on artificial and natural sweeteners, specifically stevia, and to explore whether natural sweeteners could be an acceptable alternative to sugar in children’s diets. Results The focus group involved seven parents discussing their prior knowledge, perspectives and their families’ consumption of sweeteners. Thematic analysis was used to develop themes and analyse the qualitative data. Three overarching themes were highlighted: the influence food industries and the media can have on health; the impact of modern living and lack of education regarding sweeteners. The taste sensory analysis was designed to compare ‘standard’ or sugar-dense products to their stevia sweetened alternatives (Coca-Cola vs Coca-Cola Life, supermarket own brand milk chocolate vs Balance Stevia chocolate and Maryland Cookies vs Sweet Switch Cookies) and subsequently, if perspectives could be altered. Excel was used to collate the quantitative data. Results found the majority of participants could only correctly identify one product; however, one participant correctly identified all three (100%). Conclusion The results and interest regarding stevia is significant and suggests it has major potential within the sweetener market. To further this research, more longitudinal studies with larger samples are necessary, as using stevia as a natural sweetener alternative could aid the decrease in excessive sugar consumption and the prevalence of childhood obesity.
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