This year’s presidential election has been entertaining to say the least, but in these final weeks and months leading up the November the candidates’ issues of choice have finally become clear. What surprising to me is the one that’s missing: nutrition.
Poor nutrition is the number one cause of poor health in the U.S. And ironically, while the debate on Nationalized healthcare rages, the #1 strain on our healthcare system (diet-related diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, and many cancers) remains largely ignored. Not that the economy, the environment, healthcare and education are not important, but with 12.7 million (17%) of our children (aged 2-19) and 78.6 million (35%) of American adults being obese, it’s pretty clear that nutrition – and how to solve our obesity problem – should be at the forefront of this year’s presidential debates.
Especially when you compare our numbers internationally. The United States has the highest number of overweight and obese people in the world. In the U.S., 71% of men and 62% of women are overweight or obese, compared to 38% of men and 37% of women worldwide. And our children don’t fair any better — 29% of boys and 30% of girls are overweight or obese in the U.S., compared to 14% of boys and 15% of girls worldwide. And the numbers are even worse among America’s minorities and among those at the lower end of the economic spectrum.
Knowing that the risk of adult obesity is at least twice as high for obese children as for non-obese children, it’s clear the that a big part of the solution to our obesity problem lies in educating parents both on pediatric nutrition and Flavor Intelligence and providing our children with better access to foods with a higher nutritional value and proper flavor learning qualities.
In a well-written and well-researched article by Jane Brody in the New York Times, a strong case is made for urgency in fighting childhood obesity. Two new studies conducted with more than half a million children found that obese children were much more likely to develop health problems such as colon cancer, rectal cancer, or clot-related stroke.
Further more, the American Academy of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry states that “overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults”. – unless they adopt and maintain a healthy pattern of eating and exercise. “A child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult.” Additionally, another study, found that “overweight 5-year-olds were four times as likely as normal-weight children to become obese by age 14.”
And the bad news for obese children extends beyond physical health issues and the propensity to become obese adults. Obese adolescents have higher rates of depression and poor self-esteem. Another study out of the University of California, San Diego, found that obese children and adolescents had a diminished quality of life similar to that of children with cancer. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2012 18% of children and 21% of adolescents were obese. Imagine, 20% of our kids and teenagers are living life feeling as badly as if they had cancer, and this for something that is totally preventable.
The article ends with mentioning that it’s mostly the parents’ responsibility to curb childhood obesity in their children, but refers to a study from the Netherlands where researchers found that parents of 2,205 5-year-olds “underestimated their overweight child in 85% of the cases.”
Let’s take a quick look again at the issues surrounding childhood obesity:
- obese children are at a much higher risk to develop serious health problems as adults
- obese children are very likely to become obese adults
- obese children lead a diminished quality of life similar that of kids with cancer
- parents are poor judges of whether their kids are overweight
So what’s the answer to solving our childhood obesity problem? Prevention and early intervention by raising our children’s Flavor Intelligence. Children need to “learn” which flavors they should love. A love for healthy foods can be taught later in life, but it’s much more difficult.
In a new study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, branded superhero-looking vegetable characters were used to promote vegetable consumption in elementary schools. The results were convincing. The kids added more vegetables to their plates. A lot more.
Does this signal a comeback for the Jolly Green Giant? Possibly.
As an advertising industry veteran, and co-owner of Fifteen Degrees, a Manhattan advertising agency where I currently serve as director of creative and strategy, I found these results encouraging, but not surprising. After all, kids love cartoon characters, which means they can also be captivated and influenced by them.
Ten elementary schools participated in the study, with 22,000+ kids being observed over six weeks. Some were exposed to a vinyl banner displaying the characters (fastened around the base of the salad bar), some to a short TV segment (think commercial) on healthy eating delivered by our characters, and others were exposed to both in combination. The banners alone doubled vegetable-taking among the kids (from 12.6% to 24%) and the combination of banners and TV increased vegetable-taking by 239%, which equated to more than one third of all the children (10.2% to 34.6%).
While flavor learning (the experiencing of natural vegetable and fruit flavors during prenatal, postnatal and the weaning period to the age of two of a child’s life), in my opinion, is still the obvious and natural choice for solving today’s obesity epidemic (especially in children) continued learning and reinforcement through marketing and advertising seems to me the perfect compliment to raise our childrens’ Flavor Intelligence.