IT’s no secret that childhood obesity, in the U.S. especially, is a hot topic. And more so now than ever, kids food marketers are grappling with how to deal with the crisis. To that end, industry research and consulting firm Harris Interactive put together ‘Healthy Eating for Kids’, a study released via webinar last month. The aim was to present the challenges and opportunities facing the packaged goods industry and its marketers.
‘Before government regulation takes over completely and you continue to be tried in the court of public opinion, smart marketers will take control of their own destiny,’ said Cathy Holt, VP of consumer packaged goods research at Harris Interactive. ‘You have an opportunity to positively influence public perceptions and to do the right thing.’
Lest marketers think they’re the last ones parents want to hear from, Holt pointed out parents are asking food companies to go back to the kitchen and make healthier foods and then market them to kids, encouraging them to make healthier choices. The best plan of attack would be to offer healthier versions of current food products because people tend to stick to what they know rather than change habits. Kraft’s recent move to use only non-trans fat in Oreo cookies, while maintaining the same taste and price point, is a good example. In fact, Harris provided food marketers with a menu of proactive ideas to choose from (see sidebar on this page).
Harris Interactive drew from several studies and surveys it had conducted that found Americans see a shared responsibility among parents, schools and the food industry for the health of their children. Specifically, one of its recent surveys found 65% of respondents agreed advertising by the food industry directed at kids is a major contributor to the rising rate of childhood obesity, and more than half agree the government should be more involved than it is right now.
To that end, this school year marks the first year under the Child Nutrition Act where school districts are required to put local wellness plans in place, including nutrition guidelines. Also, the recent agreement signed by the American Beverage Association will soon eliminate the availability of non-diet soda in school vending machines and high schools in the U.S.
Findings from the Center for Disease Control indicate that 16% of kids in the U.S. – that’s nine million – are obese, compared to 13% in the 1980s. The Institute of Medicine reports that among American kids born in the year 2000, 40% of girls and 30% of boys risk becoming diabetic. KC