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The state of children’s health in this country has been all over the news and media lately: from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 being passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee in March (with plans to be voted on by the Senate later this year), to First Lady Michelle Obama’s mission to solve childhood obesity in a generation through her Let’s Move campaign.

Even major TV network programming is reflecting the harrowing reality of children’s health in the show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which depicts what’s wrong with nutrition in schools and the challenges of trying to fix it.

These challenges are so widespread that, according to the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents age 2-19 years are obese. “In some nations, 30 percent of children are obese,” added Dr. Herb Joiner-Bey, scientific advisor to Barlean’s (Ferndale, WA). “Economics may be driving a great deal of this problem. Starchy foods with high glycemic index are the cheapest, most affordable foods everywhere in the world. But the excess blood sugar generated can only be managed by the human body by storing excess blood sugar as fat.” What makes these findings even more alarming is that in one study as many as 80 percent of children examined who were overweight age 10-15 years were found to be obese adults at age 25.1 In addition to problems associated with the obesity epidemic, many children are also vulnerable because of their underdeveloped immune systems. This has particular resonance today, explained Stuart Reeves, PhD director of research and development at Embria Health Sciences (Ankeny, IA), because many of the OTC medications used to treat immune ailments such as cough suppressants, antihistamines and decongestants, can have potentially dangerous side effects, especially for children.

While each of these concerns poses its own problems for children’s health, ingredient suppliers are now offering several solutions that are backed up scientifically and offer kids a helping hand in maintaining overall health and wellness.

Overcoming Obesity

“All you need to do is look at the children’s menu at almost any restaurant to see theListing of ‘beige foods’ (e.g., chicken fingers, mac and cheese, hot dogs, etc.) to see that kids generally do not care to eat healthy, balanced meals,” said Gene Bruno, MS, MHS and consultant to ISI Brands/Twinlab Corporation (American Fork, UT).

Added Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager, North America with Lipid Nutrition (Channahon, IL), “Many households now have two working parents, which results in reduced time with their children, which means parents cannot always control what activities their children participate in on a day-today basis.” Although there is no substitute for exercise and a proper diet in maintaining a healthy weight, one of the ingredients currently receiving notice for helping to lower the weight of overweight and obese children is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is a free fatty acid that naturally occurs in small amounts in most kinds of meat while slightly larger concentrations occur in dairy products.

Science has shown that CLA may inhibit the body’s absorption of fat, increase metabolism and alter the body’s use of energy during sleep.

Supplementation with CLA has proven to be particularly important, since the levels of CLA found in both meat and dairy products have undergone a significant decline (roughly 75 percent) over the decades due to shift from grass-fed livestock to grain-fed.

Recently, Lipid Nutrition commissioned a clinical trial on its CLA ingredient called Clarinol® CLA to determine its full effect on childhood obesity.

Published in the March 2010 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study found that after kids aged 6- 10 years old were given chocolate milk featuring Clarinol CLA for six months, the body fat mass was reduced in children who were overweight or obese, compared to children taking a placebo milk.

“This is the first controlled study into the application of CLA as a food ingredient for children,” explained Luchsinger, “and shows promising effects to reduce body fat and increase lean body mass, and therefore has enormous promise in improving the health of children.”

Enhancing Immunity

Because of children’s vulnerable immune systems along with recent flu epidemic scares, products targeting kids’ immune health have seen an increase of sales this past winter, according to Lorraine Niba, PhD regional marketing manager for FrieslandCampina Domo (Paramus, NJ).

Niba said she expects to see growth for the remainder of the year as well.

To help maintain immune wellness, Embria developed its EpiCor ingredient, which balances the body’s immune system while avoiding the threat of side effects. “EpiCor is a one-of-a-kind ingredient containing protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and other beneficial metabolites that deliver nutritional benefits and support immune health,” said Cheryl Sturm, director of marketing, who cited EpiCor as a key ingredient in children’s products marketed under the Vitamin Research Products, Healthy Origins and Swanson Vitamin labels.

Since childhood obesity has made it difficult to accurately calculate children’s dosing based on age alone, a child’s dose of EpiCor is based on weight, withA recommended efficacious dose of 125mg per 40 pounds of body weight.

While also supporting the immune system, Vivinal® GOS from FrieslandCampina Domo is especially suited for digestive health, an area often overlooked in children. “Vivinal GOS fermentation significantly increases the population of beneficial Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli in the colon to a greater extent than certain other prebiotics like inulin, while reducing populations of pathogenic bacteria like Clostridia,” said Niba. “In addition, Vivinal GOS inhibits the adhesion and growth of enteropathogenic E. coli. [It] therefore stimulates and supports the immune and digestive health system … and is extremely well tolerated, even in products for infants and children.”

Trends and Challenges

The market for children’s products presents a number of obstacles that manufacturers must overcome to successfully integrate their products in this category for the long term. For Brandon Bert, cofounder and president of Amazing Grass (San Francisco, CA), one of the quickest ways for manufacturers to fail is to not do their homework. “It is essential for companies to do extensive research and sampling to prove kids like their products,” he said. “Taste and quality of ingredients is important, as is the perceived and experienced benefits of a particular product.” Another step in overcoming the challenges of this market, according to Andreas Koch, marketing director at Barlean’s, is putting heavy focus group and market penetration analysis before jumping in. “The children’s supplements category is limited so ask yourself, ‘what product can I offer that is hands-down better than what’s already out there and will a parent pay that MSRP?’” Regulatory standards, too, present numerous hurdles for manufacturers.

“Products for children are very tightly regulated, and with good reason.

Because this is a vulnerable population with immune systems that are not fully developed, the safety standards for children’s products are generally very high,” said Niba. “Manufacturers therefore have to strive to meet these high standards in order to gain entry into the market.

“Manufacturers also have to be proactive in reaching out through professionals like dietitians, physicians, educators and spokespeople to establish specific programs targeted at educating parents about the benefits of their products,” she continued.

For manufacturers on the lookout for what may be some of the potentially influential trends in children’s health this year, Keri Marshall MS, ND, medical director with Gaia Herbs (Brevard, NC), pointed toward omega-3 DHA for brain and eye development and probiotics for digestive health, as well as a “healthy household” approach by many families. “More families are making a lot of effort to eat healthier and be healthier.

Organic foods for kids have also increased in popularity,” she said.

Targeting Parents, Appeasing Children

No matter how kid-friendly a new product is, the fact remains that if a manufacturer wants to get it into the hands of kids, they must first convince parents that the product is a worthwhile choice.

The first step in doing so begins with delivering a positive message. The reason for this, said Lipid Nutrition’s Luchsinger, is that by sending the message that the foods children eat are bad what can result is children feeling guilty or shameful. This is true even for claims saying the product helps “prevent childhood obesity” as they are often “counter-productive, as parents may be sensitive to their weight as well as their kid’s,” he said. “Positive emotions are much better motivators.” After this stage of the process, parents need to be given complete assurance of purity, potency and integrity behind a supplement, said Marshall. “There is a lot of discussion behind the quality of supplements,” she added, “and I think parents are extra aware of this concern when it comes to their children.” Since children tend to prefer to consume their nutritional needs rather than swallowing pills, functional foods and beverages as well as chewable supplements may offer manufactures a convenient way to pique a child’s taste buds while delivering the nutritional goods.

Overall, for FrieslandCampina Domo’s Niba, the outlook for the children’s health market shows that future growth will be based on both functional products as well as traditional dietary supplements.

“While sales of functional foods and beverages for children continue to steadily rise, bedrock supplements such as vitamins and micronutrients still continue to show very strong and steady sales. It is essential for manufacturers therefore to have a complete view of the multiple needs of this market, as it provides for both approaches,” she explained.

While optimistic about the future for the category, Amazing Grass’ Bert sees a great amount of work ahead before this market is fully realized. “There is a lot of education and awareness that parents still need,” he said. “We are in the infancy of children’s supplements and their importance as part of a healthy diet.”

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