Good food is vital to overall well being. As such, innovating food for sole purpose of driving positive change in our communities is equally important.
Childhood obesity has been described as “ one of the most serious health challenges of the 21st century”- World Health Organization. According to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control, 1 in 5 children in America are considered obese, a ratio that is triple the data reported 3 decades ago. Obesity is a problem that predisposes to several health challenges as published by Ebbeling and colleagues
When it comes to addressing issues like this most people assume that this will be a problem for policy makers to tackle or parents/educators or food industry leaders. Food related health challenges our society faces is not a problem for one organization, agency or individual to solve but a collective effort.
Food industry leaders, educators, parents, policy makers, community leaders all have a role to play in solving the problem.
Mondelez recently announced their strategy to tackling the problem of portion control. Regardless of what you think about the effectiveness of this approach. One thing is clear, Mondelez demonstrated that the problem of childhood obesity needs to be tackled, and the food industry has a role to play in solving the problem.
Can food technology companies innovate to find lasting solution to this obesity problem?
While there may be several approaches to tackling this issues, here is my take on addressing the issue of childhood obesity along with contribution from food industry leaders and health professionals.
Accessibility is the key problem, accessibility to the right education and food said Vera Kutsenko CEO of Modern Basket. “Unhealthy food is like cigarette: having one may not be a problem but 5-10 years of continuous consumption will create a problem. For young kids, it may be necessary to get creative on how to make the food more appealing to them” Kutsenko added.
Accessibility to nourishing meals for students is the problem Revolution Foods works to solve. According to Kirsten Saenz Tobey, the CIO at Revolution Foods – “With 1 in 2 kids in minority communities affected with Type 2 Diabetes, it is more critical than ever to ensure all students, regardless of their income status, have access to high quality nutritious meals at school. In particular, ensuring kids have access daily to a wide array of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grain rich and culturally relevant foods. Our key focus is ensuring we are supporting school leaders to provide the best possible nutrition for their students. Many of the schools with which we partner are serving the students and families at highest risk of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases. Proper nutrition and healthy food can drive positive academic outcomes and can be the ultimate tool of empowerment and a key ingredient to helping children achieve their true potential”.
Parental Involvement :
The most practical strategy for reversing obesity in America is to take control of what happens at home. Parents need to modify what their children eat, starting when they are babies and toddlers, rather than relying on large food companies. From a very young age, babies and toddlers need to be introduced to a variety of vegetables, fruits and proteins – whole foods that come from the earth, rather than manufactured, processed, pre-packaged foods that come from a factory and are often laden with sugar, additives, and inflammatory oils. Packaged snack foods should be eliminated entirely or, at the very least, should be in limited supply for a baby or toddler. When refined sugar and packaged snack foods are introduced at a young age, the child develops a propensity to only want to eat those foods, becoming what is commonly referred to as a “picky eater”. Picky eaters are created, not born. Practically speaking, first foods play a critical role in the likelihood of developing childhood obesity. –Sharon Brown, a nutritionist and CEO at Bonafide Provisions
Sharon Brown’s point was further supported by Melissa Mondala MD who added that “ Children should be encouraged early and often to eat foods as close to nature as possible. Foods rich in nutrients, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds should be introduced while nutrient deficient foods, processed foods, especially foods with high salt, high sugar, oil, and artificial additives should be discouraged. Physical activity with a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity should be encouraged as well.
Food Technology Innovation:
Research studies led by Byrd-Bredbenner and colleagues focused on understanding the effect of web-based homestyle intervention on encouraging parents to adjust aspects of their lifestyle such as diet and exercise supporting a healthier home environment for the children. This research was based on the premise that children spend most of their time at home and to tackle the issue of obesity innovation that promotes healthier lifestyle at home is worth exploring.
Over the summer, our team at GrubEasy Interactive worked with a group of students on a pilot test of Young Super Cook: a web application that allows students to earn points & eventually rewards for making healthier dining choices. Energized by the concept of wining rewards the students engaged in online forums to learn how to modify their favorite meals to create more nourishing options. The level of interest and engagement exceeded our expectations. When students are rewarded for a desirable behavior, they are encouraged to do more. More importantly this supports the notion that technological innovation can be employed to educate and inspire the next generation to make healthier dining choices.
Editor’s note: This article was first published by Julia Olayanju PhD on her Forbes column here