Health trends begin to impact on perceptions and diet of children

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 22nd October 2008

A new survey from market intelligence firm Mintel suggests adolescent’s food perceptions and actual eating habits may not be as dire as many believe.

Asking why they eat what they eat, Mintel found that two in five (42%) American kids and teens reach for foods that give them more energy. Over a third (35%) purposefully eat foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients. Approximately a quarter try to eat foods that are low in fat and 22% look for low-in-sugar foods.

“The battle is half won,” suggests Chris Haack, senior analyst at Mintel. “Kids understand that food gives them energy and improves their overall health. Now, the challenge is to motivate more young people to actively improve what, when and how much they eat, to place healthfulness above indulgence more frequently than not.”

Mintel discovered two-thirds (65%) of kids and teens say they eat dinner at home at least five times a week; 33% do so every day. Mr Haack noted that better eating often starts at home, where parents can shape food preferences and habits. According to Mintel, only 13% of youngsters sit with the family for fewer than three dinners per week. “The perception that today’s youth constantly eats alone, on-the-go and out of the home is simply wrong,” Haack stated.

Mintel’s research also confirms that many teens are receptive to healthy eating messages. When asked about their attitudes toward food, 66% of teens said they believed “eating gives you energy/vitality,” while 61% said “it’s important to eat a balanced diet.” Two in five (41%) said they liked the trend towards healthier fast food.

Still, the number one fast food restaurant visited by youth is McDonald’s, by a large margin above better-for-you alternatives like Subway. “Health and wellness campaigns have impacted kids’ and teens’ food perceptions, but they haven’t completely changed their eating habits,” Mr Haack advised. “Companies need to find ways to reinvent home-based meals and energize healthy snacking, so today’s youth can see the benefits of better nutrition and take action.”

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May 2008 that kids’ and teens’ obesity levels seem to be leveling off, having shown no significant increases from 1999 to 2006.