The Foundation for Child Development issued a scary report last week arguing that the recession could result in children—particularly poor and very young kids—eating even more cheap, low-quality, unhealthy food than they currently do, as cash-strapped parents are forced to substitute fast food and junk food for more nutritious fare in the current economy. “There is a concern with ‘recession obesity’ apart from the general trend toward an increasing number of obese American children,” said Kenneth Land, project director of the foundation’s Youth Well-Being Index Project, which issues an annual composite assessment of how U.S. kids are faring in terms of education and health.
In issuing the report, the foundation and child advocates called for the creation of policies that help families during tough economic times and strengthen early childhood education. “We should be doing a lot more to invest in children and youth, and it’s pretty clear we’re not doing that,” Ruby Takanishi, president of the Foundation for Child Development, said June 3 during a presentation of the foundation’s report.
The idea of the recession erasing the progress that has already been made on the childhood nutrition front is pretty frightening. And, although the nation’s poorest children are likely to suffer the most nutritionally (and in many other ways) from the economic crisis, not everyone believes the economy will have parents turning toward the cheapest food possible in an effort to weather the economic storm.
In fact, some people argue that the economy is driving parents to expect more value from the products they purchase, and this could present a competitive advantage for those companies selling products that truly pack a healthy punch. “In this poor economic time, parents are a lot more conscious of how they spend their food money,” Denise Devine, president and CEO of Froose, which makes a patented children’s beverage that combines organic whole fruit and whole grains, told Nutrition Business Journal. “The value proposition is so much more important these days. Why would you pay more for a 50% watered down juice? Half the time [those products] don’t give your child any nutritional value. My product is not just a juice with isolated vitamins. It is a whole food that has all of these wonderful things, including gluten-free brown rice.”
As a mother who is more focused than ever on keeping her kids healthy by feeding them nutritious foods, I tend to agree with Devine on this one. But I also think that much more needs to be done to make healthier foods available, accessible and affordable to all children, especially in the current economic environment, and I’m hoping President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture live up to their stated promise of making improved children’s nutrition a top priority. In addition, I urge more companies to invest in helping make healthy food and nutrients available to children in need, such as Revolution Foods is doing by supporting bringing healthy school lunches to inner-city schools and Vitamin Angels is doing through its many programs here in the United States and abroad.
NBJ’s newest report—Healthy Kids’ Market Report: Breaking the Entry Barrier—was created to help companies operating in, working to move in to or simply evaluating the U.S. healthy kids’ product market better understand this market and its opportunities and challenges. Order your copy of the report via the NBJ Website.