The food industry continues to focus on consumer trends targeting food and beverages that advance the health and well-being of the general public—both in the United States and abroad. That was the central theme of IFT’s Wellness 12 Conference held last month in Rosemont, Ill. Hundreds of food professionals gathered at the event to learn the latest developments merging food, medicine, and health.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Wellness 12 was the general session exploring viewpoints on how Baby Boomer and Millennial consumers shop for food and make dining decisions for themselves and their families. The Marketing Wellness session, which offered a glimpse into what triggers purchasing habits, addressed new research findings from the International Food Information Council’s Functional Foods/Foods for Health Survey, which demonstrated consumer interest in functional foods. The session also explored the increasing buying power of children, preteens, Millennials, and moms.
Several other sessions addressed the impact of food on children: weight management, school feeding programs, and nutrition for kids. The breakout session Protein for Kids focused on protein-enhanced foods targeting children and examined the role of parents as the gatekeepers for children’s foods. It highlighted new research on the importance of breakfast in healthy eating and a key opportunity for protein-based foods.
Wellness 12 offered a unique opportunity to hear first-hand what’s new on the health and wellness front. In this issue of Food Technology, Nutraceuticals columnist Linda Milo Ohr builds on that conference by looking at the growing number of food and beverage products that focus on children’s health.
These new products contain fiber, prebiotics, probiotics, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids all geared toward improving the wellness of children. Ganeden Biotech of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, is partnering with other companies to introduce novel products such as a drinking straw lined with probiotics.Horizon Milling in Minneapolis, Minn., has developed a wholewheat flour that has been used in tortillas to boost whole grains in school lunches.
As you are aware, policymakers recently revamped the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to limit or eliminate certain foods such as potatoes and whole milk from children’s mealtime choices. While this strategy may be well intended, it may have unintended consequences that we as food professionals need to be aware of as we respond to policy decisions. For example, potatoes have dietary fiber and more potassium than bananas. The primary sources of choline and vitamin D in the diet are eggs and milk—which are high in saturated fat and cholesterol—and under the guidelines should be limited. If children skip or limit eggs and milk to avoid saturated fat, they could end up with deficient levels of choline and vitamin D. In fact, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data indicate intake of these nutrients is inadequate within this high-risk population.
Recent data analysis of NHANES also shows children receive most of their calories and nutrients from ready-to-eat processed foods defined as items requiring minimal or no preparation. These include breakfast cereals, flavored oatmeal, crackers, ice cream, yogurt, cookies, fruit chews, rotisserie chicken, luncheon meats, fruit drinks, carbonated beverages, and so on. And almost all U.S. consumers fail to meet the recommended dietary fiber intake: 38 grams per day for men, 25 grams per day for women, and 5 grams + age for children (e.g., 12 grams for a child age 7).
Supply and demand play in as well. Even if fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods were marketed in an effective way, there wouldn’t be enough of these products available for every U.S. child and adult to eat predominantly plant-based meals three times a day, seven days a week in order to meet the dietary guidelines. The farmland used to grow and harvest fruits and vegetables would need to expand by 137%—from 6.5 million acres to 15.3 million acres.
Various sessions at IFT’s annual Wellness Conference addressed the specific issues related to children, nutrition, government regulations, and marketing, but there is more that we can do. We must continue to foster ideas and develop products that help address these issues and promote the health and well-being of the next generation.
Roger Clemens, Dr.P.H.,
IFT President, 2011–2012
Chief Scientific Officer,
Horn Company, La Mirada, Calif.