Beverages are among the first independent product choices that school-aged children will make and unhealthy choices can be a threat to children's health. The present study investigated which beverage attributes shape adults' and children's health perceptions. For this purpose, 100 children (fifty-two boys; mean age 8·8 (sd 1·1) years) and their parents were invited to independently perform a beverage-sorting task. Participants were asked to place twenty commonly consumed soft drinks in a line ranging from ‘unhealthy’ to ‘healthy’. The sorting data were analysed using multidimensional scaling with property fitting and hierarchical clustering. Sugar content (βparents= − 0·78, βchildren= − 0·68; P< 0·001), artificial sweeteners (βparents= − 0·68, βchildren= − 0·66; P< 0·001), fruit content (βparents= 0·33, βchildren= 0·36; P< 0·05) and caffeine content (βparents= − 0·45, βchildren= − 0·46; P< 0·01) were found to be the predictors of parents' and children's health perceptions. Parents' and children's estimates were strongly related (r
s 0·70 (sd 0·15)); both groups classified the beverages into similar clusters. However, compared with their parents, children perceived beverages such as fruit juices and grapefruit soda to be healthier. In conclusion, parents' and children's health perceptions were strongly related based on the same relevant attributes for evaluation. However, fruit content was considered a more important criterion by children, which might lead to differences in the health perception between children and their parents. Low fruit content and the belief of beverages being ‘natural’ could positively bias perceptions. Therefore, certain soft drinks such as squashes or fruit lemonades are problematic, and the consumer's awareness of their low nutritional quality should be raised.