A. Elizabeth Sloan

Something good usually comes from something bad, and this time it may well be one of the truly new and most lucrative food segments to emerge in recent years—the virtually untapped kid’s healthy food market.

Going way beyond simple fortified foods to diet/weight-loss, low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium, low-calorie, high-fiber, high-nutrient, high-protein/low-carbohydrate, and medicine carrying food-based products aimed at kids and concerned parents may be just what the doctor ordered to solve the growing national and international child health crisis.

And a big market it will be. Next to the “Baby Boomers,” the “Baby Boomlet” is the largest growth segment in the United States population and is projected to be as large as the Boomer segment by 2005. With Boomers having done an excellent job of passing on their health concerns and alternative health practices to their now “parent” children, the timing is right. According to Multi-Sponsor Surveys, nearly three-quarters of mothers of pre-teen children believe that vitamins can enhance physical performance, 70% enhance cognitive ability, 62% promote healthy skin, 60% improve mental state/relieve depression, and 52% reduce hyperactivity or increase attention span. Almost nine in ten mothers are making a strong, or at least some effort, to buy more vitamin-fortified foods.

Statistics show that the current generation of American children is surprisingly unhealthy. The U.S. Surgeon General’s report on obesity says that 13% of kids age 6–11 years and 14% of those age 12–19 are overweight.

The American Heart Association reports that 27 million kids under age 19 already have high cholesterol levels, and just over 2 million have high blood pressure. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s HANES III survey confirms that 85% of our nation’s elementary school-age children eat less than the recommended five daily servings of fruits/vegetables and that only 20% of teenage girls and 40% of teenage boys meet their calcium requirement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Type II diabetes now accounts for 50% of childhood diabetes; the President’s Council on Physical Fitness says that 36% of kids in grades K-12 get no daily exercise; and the National Academy of Science reports that kids get less than half of their fiber requirement.

From vitamin-laced waters to candy and bars, fortified foods for kids have been enjoying strong sales. In fact, PepsiCo reports that Tropicana’s recently introduced Healthy Kids orange juice has been among the most successful launches in its history. One development that will help skyrocket the kid’s health market is the recommended dietary intake levels recently released by the NAS Food and Nutrition Board in cooperation with Health Canada. For the first time, FNB has published recommended levels for adults and children for carbohydrates, key amino acids,dietary fiber, key fatty acids, including omega-3 and 6, upper limits for carbohydrates, and no upper limit for protein intake, and it even recommends an hour of exercise—all this creating a new set of nutrition formulation guidelines. The report will draw further media attention to children’s nutrient deficiencies as well as the high incidence of risk factors for chronic diseases among our youth. In addition, the recent widespread use of bone/osteoporosis scanners by pediatricians and public access to such equipment in a large number of pharmacies will bring renewed attention to calcium.

Although weight loss will remain the most pressing problem, a wide variety of nontraditional food applications will also arise. For example, with the U.S. Surgeon General reporting that the incidence of dental cavities in children age 6–8 is increasing and the American Academy of Periodontists reporting that calcium and vitamin C play a role in the prevention of periodontal disease, can dental gums for kids be far behind? Likewise, Dimetapp®’s Get Better Bear® Sore Throat lollipops are an excellent example of the role candy can play for children as a medicinal carrier.

Children’s health is not just an American problem. Similar problems plague the Far East and Europe. By 2006, according to Datamonitor’s new report, “Diet, Exercise and Physical Appearance,” almost half of Europeans will be overweight. According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, young Japanese children are suffering not only from obesity but also from high cholesterol levels. A new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study reports that the percentage of overweight children climbed 20% in China and tripled in Brazil from 1991 to 1997.

While serious diseases will remain the purview of the major, pharmaceutical firms, other conditions can well be “child’s play” for cutting-edge, nutrition-conscious food marketers.

Contributing Editor
President, Sloan Trends & Solutions, Inc.
Escondido, Calif.