Healthy habits

by Keith Nunes
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Consumer research released in late June revealed the attitudes and behaviors of families with one or more overweight or obese children differ little from those with all healthy weight children. The research, conducted jointly by the SymphonyIRI Group, Inc., Chicago, and the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, showed that behaviors around purchase decisions, meal preparation and use of free time may determine the propensity for healthy weight or overweight, obese children.

“Many myths and misperceptions continue to exist about childhood obesity,” said Thom Bilschok, global president of innovation and strategy for SymphonyIRI. “This new research is the first of a series designed to probe into the attitudes, behaviors and rituals within the family that can lead to children becoming overweight or obese.”

Several factors were identified in the study that may make the difference between one or more children in a family becoming overweight or obese and all children maintaining a healthy weight. The involvement of children in purchasing decisions and food preparation, for example was shown to have an effect on whether a child was overweight or obese or not. In addition, parents in what the study defined as “healthy weight families” were more likely to be involved in preparation and cooking most meals.

The study also showed that healthy habits translate into healthy weight children. Households with healthy weight children were shown to have fewer rules about eating than those with one or more overweight, obese children. The traditional adage of “clean your plate” was also found to not serve children well. Just 28% of the families surveyed with healthy weight children apply the rule vs. 38% for families with at least one overweight, obese child.

“Gaining a greater understanding of home behaviors and dynamics is critical to addressing childhood obesity in a holistic manner,” said Cathy Polley, vice-president of health and wellness for the F.M.I. “(The) F.M.I. is working to address the issues that lead to childhood obesity and our partnership with SymphonyIRI on this important new research is the latest step in these efforts.”

Fortifying food and beverages

Ensuring that the nutritional needs of children are met through a variety of foodstuffs requires meeting several challenges. Important nutrient categories for growing children include vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and bioactive phytonutrients. Successful product developers will incorporate the nutrients into products that have an appeal to children, such as cereal bars that include fiber or vitamin-enriched chocolate milk. But there are challenges to fortifying such products that need to be addressed.

“Just adding an ingredient or a combination of ingredients to address a health condition does not ensure delivery of the expected results,” said Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., senior executive vice-president and chief scientific officer for Fortitech, Inc., Schenectady, N.Y. “Issues such as interactions, bioavailability, potency, and shelf life must be addressed.

“Fortified beverages, for example, have become a medium of choice for delivering healthy and functional nutrients. Those in the industry know that formulating beverages can be complex, particularly when multiple ingredients are being added. There is a host of complications that can occur in beverage formulation such as sedimentation, poor taste cloudiness, or lack of uniformity of ingredient incorporation among other challenges.”

Mr. Chaudhari added that because there is an inverse relationship between bioavailability and functionality of some minerals, factors that are responsible for increasing solubility of a mineral salt actually will increase its reactivity or interactions. The same solubilization will increase the potential for bioavailability.

“This issue occurred when a manufacturer experienced a color problem with a strawberry and chocolate liquid dietary drink,” he said. “The product used high levels of insoluble calcium and magnesium salts, which caused a lighter or diluted color at high concentration. The opposite occurred when soluble salts were used, particularly in the chocolate product due to the reactions with phenolic compounds such as tannins.

“Iron often reacts with phenolic compounds and causes an unwanted blue/black color. To obtain the desired color, the manufacturer had to change the mineral source or add it to the product at a different stage in the process to ensure bioavailability but decrease interactions.”

In another instance, Mr. Chaudhari said formulators had to pack beverages containing riboflavin or vitamin B12 in brown bottles or in bottles with UV barriers to protect against degradation because the ingredient is highly unstable in UV light. In addition, he added, mineral fortification may change the color, flavor and appearance, unless the formulator accounts for the particular challenges of single or combined minerals.

Reducing calories, sugar

When determining the most nutritious products to serve students, school districts are faced with providing foods and beverages that taste good and are suitable for school-age children while staying within budget. Meeting the required targets largely depends on custom formulations with different types of sweeteners that are deemed acceptable by parents and may help create a healthier profile without adversely affecting taste. The formulations may include blends of sugar, crystalline fructose and sucralose.

“Sugar and crystalline fructose each contain four calories per gram,” said Mike Harrison, senior vice-president of new product development for Tate & Lyle, Decatur, Ill. “Since crystalline fructose is 17% sweeter than sugar, less of it can be used to achieve the same sweetness levels of sugar while simultaneously reducing calories.

“If school districts are interested in gaining an even greater reduction in calories, which also can help them stay within their budgets, a blend with sucralose, a no-calorie sweetener, and a caloric sweetener, such as crystalline fructose or sugar, can reduce calories up to 30% without affecting the taste that kids love.”

To develop a better understanding of parents’ attitudes about sweeteners in children’s products, Tate & Lyle commissioned research to assess the situation. While research confirms a significant proportion of parents believe some products contain too much sugar, the study revealed parents are comfortable with a variety of sweeteners, including some no-calorie sweeteners, when the sweeteners provide a reduction in calories and sugar.

“Tate & Lyle’s research found that 72% of parents generally accept the use of no-calorie sweeteners to reduce sugar for their children ages 3-15,” said Dave Tuchler, vice-president of global marketing for Tate & Lyle. “More specifically, when parents were presented with ingredient and nutritional information for two flavored milk formulas, 8 out of 10 parents preferred a chocolate milk drink that was lower in calories and sugar and that had been sweetened with a combination of sugar and sucralose, compared to a typical low-fat flavored milk.”

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