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Dispensing Strategies: May June 2009

Honey, we shrunk the kids


May 1, 2009
By Michelle Brisebois

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Honey, we shrunk the kids
A few years ago, The Learning Channel launched a show titled “Honey I’m
Killing the Kids.” This family weight-loss makeover show utilized a
series of computer-generated photos to simulate how
obese children might look at age 40.

A few years ago, The Learning Channel launched a show titled “Honey I’m Killing the Kids.” This family weight-loss makeover show utilized a series of computer-generated fast-forwarded photos to simulate how obese children might look at age 40 if they stayed on the fast track to obesity.

The grown-up versions on the screen were gargantuan, with multiple chins and decaying teeth. Most of the parents on the show are horrified enough to leap into action and change their child’s eating habits. The show tapped into the fears of many parents struggling to help their kids maintain a healthy weight.

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It’s scary stuff. So scary, in fact, that it may just be working.

Obesity rates for Canadian children have doubled in the last 25 years, earning this cohort the nickname “Generation XXL.” In 1978/79, 3 per cent of children aged 2 to 17 were obese. By 2004, 8 per cent, or an estimated 500,000 children, were obese. (Statistics Canada)

Breakfast For Learning is a non-profit and volunteer agency dedicated to starting school nourishment programs. The group conducted a study on childhood nutrition and found that Canada scored a “C’’ when it came to making sure our kids are eating healthy foods.

The survey found that many children are not eating the daily recommended servings of vegetables and fruit, whole grains and milk products. It also found that as younger children hit their teens, their eating habits worsen. Statistics like these have prompted many school boards to eliminate unhealthy food options from their cafeterias replacing them with whole grains, fresh fruits and salads.

It’s encouraging to note that some of these programs targeting youth may be working. A recent study based on survey data gathered from 1999 to 2006 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, reports that obesity rates for youth have plateaued for the first time in many years. The medical community cautions that there are still far too many overweight kids but it seems the tide is starting to turn.

Most school boards have made a concerted effort over the last few years to introduce healthy options into the food service available on premise. Whole grain pizza crusts and breads are now the norm in most cafeterias.

While critics argued that the kids would likely go off-premise to get their junk food fix, some studies suggest that kids can actually grow to acquire a taste for healthy fare.

Researchers from a Minnesota university’s department of food science and nutrition monitored how much bread students threw away, and whether that amount increased as the percentage of whole-grain flour in the bread and rolls was gradually increased. The study included meals consumed by kids in kindergarten through grade six at two Hopkins, Minnesota elementary schools during a school year.

Red and white whole-grain flour was added incrementally to products, but students showed no strong preference for either type of flour. Students didn’t throw away more bread products until the percentage of whole-grain flour in the bread and rolls reached about 70 per cent. The evidence proves that some things are an “acquired taste” but that children are perfectly capable of adapting if it’s introduced gradually.

Further evidence that the younger generation is developing a different approach to snacking is supported by research conducted by the NPD group reported June 2008. According to the market research company, “food journals written by mothers in 1987 found that cookies were the snack of choice for young children, followed by fruit, milk and juice. However new data, released in response to indications that childhood obesity figures have levelled off, has shown that fruit is now the leader, followed by cookies milk, crackers and juice.”

The report also indicated that children today have a higher propensity to consume fruit rolls, yogurt and bottled water. Children in 1987 were given more carbonated soft drinks, ice cream, candy and cakes.

We do know that once a generation develops a set of habits – they tend to bring those habits into other life stages. Pizza consumption is growing in the senior population faster than ever before because baby boomers used to consuming pizza as kids, are starting to become senior citizens.

No doubt, kids who’ve acquired a taste for these wholesome foods will continue to include them regularly in their diet. It stands to reason that if you have machines in a location frequented by the youth segment – you’d be wise to ensure that whole grains, yogurt drinks and fruit roll-ups are part of the offering. 

It’s been said in business that if we stand still while everything around us is progressing that we’re actually regressing by default. Similarly, if we don’t acknowledge that new generations may have different needs and wants – we’ll be losing market share to those who do anticipate their needs.


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