From snacks and sips to supps and clean
medicine, here’s the latest science, trends, and offerings in the children’s health market.
We all know eating loads of junk food—the kind with advertising designed to tempt children—isn’t great for wellbeing. But for kids, what are long-term effects of consuming a diet rich in highly processed foods? Researchers with the American Society of Nutrition set out to answer that question by focusing on children’s snacking.
The researchers reported that, while previous research has linked consumption of ultraprocessed foods with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease in adults, this is one of the first studies to show a connection between intake of these foods and lower levels of physical fitness in children. The researchers determined that:
- Children ages 3 to 5 who consume more ultraprocessed foods have poorer locomotor skills than children who consume less of these foods.
- 12- to 15-year-olds who consume more ultraprocessed foods have lower cardiovascular fitness. Teens and preteens with good cardiovascular fitness levels consume fewer calories daily from highly processed foods (such as packaged breakfast cereals, candies, soda, sweetened juices and yogurts, and prepared foods like pizza, hotdogs, burgers, and chicken nuggets).
“Healthy dietary and exercise behaviors are established at a very young age,” explains lead researcher Jacqueline Vernarelli, Ph.D., Director for the Master of Public Health at Sacred Heart University, in a release on the findings. “Our findings point to the need to educate families about cost-effective ways to reduce ultraprocessed food intake to help decrease the risk for cardiovascular health problems in adulthood.”
Part of the challenge, of course, is that highly processed convenience foods are an easy option for time-pressed parents, and the treats appeal to picky eaters. That makes it especially important to educate parents on the lasting impact of that quick snack. “Our research shows the importance of preparing healthy snacks and meals,” says Dr. Vernarelli. “Think of it like saving for retirement: You’re making decisions now that will influence your child’s future.”
Chris D. Meletis, N.D., Director of Clinical Education at Trace Mineral Research, shares the educational approach he takes: “I routinely share the story of the three little pigs with my patients as a reflection of building their bodies strong. Are we willing to build our body, designed for a lifetime, out of straw, sticks, or bricks? After all, we are all we eat, from our heads to our feet. Our newborn bundles of joy entered our lives at one point, weighing a few pounds. Now our kids, as they grow, are many multiples of that original weight, so what are we offering them nutritionally to fuel their bones, brains, skin, muscles, and the trillions of cells? It all comes down to the quality and quantity of building materials.”
What’s more, Dr. Meletis adds, today’s kids are dealing with issues that have never been faced before. “This current generation of kids faces very Orwellian challenges, a nod to George Orwell, a science fiction author,” Dr. Meletis says. “We have technology that streams constant breaking news from around the world. Most of that news is not uplifting to kids or adults. Then we have the foundation of technology, WiFi, cellular including 5G, EMF (electromagnetic fields), genetically modified foods, and onwards. These are things that, as parents or grandparents, we did not even have a clue about as we innocently played outside until the streetlights came on. These potential health burdens faced by this generation are new and growing. Many of the ‘food product offerings’ on the shelves of grocery stores did not even exist 20 years ago. Thus, ‘it is time to meet scientific challenges with scientific solutions,’ as I share with my patients.”
One solution? High-quality supplements.
This generation of children, the future parents of tomorrow, need access to and experience with high-quality supplements, which will help fortify their minds and bodies, Dr. Meletis maintains. “The reality is the last two years have not been easy for any of us, and for our kids, it has been a large percentage of their lives.”
The good news is that awareness of the importance of a healthy diet and adequate nutrient intake has increased in recent years. “Parents are more concerned with ensuring that their kids receive the best nutrition possible,” notes Vicky Mak, Technical Writer at ChildLife Essentials. Still, it’s not always easy.
Indeed, according to findings from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health published in 2022:
- 3 in 5 parents report that it is hard to get their kids to eat a well-balanced diet.
- 35% of parents report their children are picky eaters.
- 31% of parents say their children are not eating enough fruits and vegetables.
- 13% report their children are not getting enough vitamins and minerals.
- 9% report their children are not eating enough fiber.
“These statistics are troubling, since children are more sensitive to nutritional gaps in their diets as they have smaller energy stores than adults,” Mak says. “If children are not consuming enough nutrients to meet their body’s energy demands, this may negatively impact their growth, development, and overall health. As a result, parents continue to search for effective dietary supplement solutions to help improve their children’s nutrition.”
Brands throughout the natural products industry are working to make it easier and tastier to get even the pickiest of eaters to go cleaner and greener in their food choices. Plus, nutritional supplement brands are formulating products with the specific needs of kids (and parents!) in mind.
Upping the Convenience with New Delivery Systems
Post-pandemic lifestyle changes have created a shift in needs. “Schools and summer camps are reopening, travel restrictions are being lifted, and people in general are going outside more often,” says Mak. “As a result, there has been a significant increase in consumer demand for new and upcoming on-the-go delivery formats. Parents want supplements that are individually wrapped and securely packaged for their kids to take with them wherever they go.”
Due to this, ease and accessibility are vital now. “On-the-go delivery formats allow kids to take single, individual servings of a snack product or supplement,” explains Mak. What’s more, Mak adds, “Both parents and children are busier than ever. They are readjusting to changes from their previous work-from-home lifestyles. That these supplements offer a single serving size for daily use is also considered a huge necessity. This allows parents to easily pack these supplements into their kids’ lunch boxes. This helps ensure that their children safely consume the right amount of healthful ingredients. With these on-the-go formats, kids can conveniently take as many single servings as they need. So, they never miss a day of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.”
Bonus: Alternative delivery systems can help mitigate fears that children have around pill-swallowing. “Quick dissolve powder packets are one of the newest on-the-go delivery formats that appeal to kids,” says Mak. “Unlike conventional pills and tablets, quick dissolve powder packets can be formulated with delicious natural flavors that kids love. They are extremely easy to dissolve and consume for children who have difficulty swallowing pills and capsules. Each powder packet contains a single serving. This is perfect for kids to pack on-the-go in lunch boxes and take later on. Although these quick dissolve powder packets may be reminiscent of unhealthy pixie stick candies, these powder packets as dietary supplements are carefully made. They were created with vitamins, minerals, and probiotics that help encourage nutritional wellness in children. They are often free of sugar and artificial flavors and colors.”
Another sought after delivery form? Chewables, which tend to be easier for some children to take, says Arik Johnson, VP, Sales, at Genexa, Inc. “Overall, we believe demand for products that are easy to take on-the-go will continue to rise as more products meet parents where they currently are in active, busy lifestyles.”
Similarly, “Trace Minerals offers innovative delivery formats in numerous categories,” offers Dr. Meletis. “These include: immune support, electrolyte replacement beverages for kid athletes, tasty multivitamins, and vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, B12, and iodine. These have been a tremendous hit with parents and kids. Pill fatigue is real so something yummy will always attract our youth to consume it.”
Focusing on Flavor to Boost Compliance
“Over the last 30 years of clinical practice, there have been many advances in the field of nutritional supplements, and at the same time, some things have stayed the same,” says Dr. Meletis. “The constant that all parents continue to face is to help nourish our kids without extra stress. We all know that the keyword for adults and kids alike is ‘compliance.’ The last thing a parent wants to add to their day is a battle over taking a multivitamin, mineral, green drink, or the like.”
Fortunately, formulators have really stepped up to serve this market. “When it comes to supplements, the kid’s nutritional reality, as I call it, starts with their refusal or inability to swallow pills,” says Dr. Meletis. “This is followed by taste since the remaining options for ‘supplemental nutrition’ are to either chew it or drink it. Trace Minerals has led the way in advances in high compliance patient/consumer liquids, powders, and gummies. If it doesn’t taste good, patients just aren’t going to take it. In our clinical practice here in Oregon, we offer many of the gummies, liquids, and powders. For example, Greens Pak, which is a big hit. We carry what people like and what they will purchase. It won’t just sit on the shelf at the clinic or their home.”
Meeting the Desire for Clean and Green
Another key focus for parents: The desire for clean ingredients. This now transcends snacks and continues into the supplement space, and into medicine as well. “Parents often compromise at shelf because ‘effective’ and ‘clean’ don’t always go together,” says Johnson. “Genexa has pioneered a new approach when it comes to medicine, combining both effective, science-backed active ingredients and clean, non-artificial inactive ingredients to deliver the same effective medicine without any artificial fillers.”
To support the health and wellbeing of their kids, Johnson says, parents are looking for effective medicines to treat acute symptoms like fever and cough. “They are also looking for products made with clean, non-artificial ingredients. In the OTC drug segment, we’re seeing more parents paying attention to the inactive ingredients in their children’s products. Healthcare providers in our network share that conversations are picking up with parents who want to know more about inactive ingredients and specifically, which ones to avoid.”
Delivering on the Demand for -Biotics
Understanding of the key role the microbiome plays in overall health has led to a boom in demand for products that support a healthy microbiome. Mak notes, “Probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics have become very popular ingredients that are clinically researched for their health benefits in kids.”
There is incredible potential for these products to address many different segments of children’s health, including:
- Digestive health
- Immune health
- Skin health
- Cognitive health
“Studies conducted among infants and children have demonstrated a strong association between gut microbiome profiles and cognitive and immune function,” says Mak. “Developing and maintaining a healthy gut during infancy and childhood can therefore be especially important for overall growth and development.”
Additionally, Mak explains the importance of gut health in child development and how postbiotics, for example, can help. “Certain probiotic genre, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, contain beneficial bacterial strains, which have a role in the production of neurotransmitters, like GABA and acetylcholine, indirectly altering emotional processing, mood, and behavior,” Mak says. “Postbiotics help promote the integrity of the intestinal barrier and the production of the protective mucus layer of the intestinal epithelium, showing strong capabilities in supporting digestive-immune health. Ingredients, like these, that influence the gut microbiome, can help provide optimal gut support and extra benefits for children during their time of rapid growth and development.”
For a deeper dive on the topic, including information specifically to child development, read Naturally Informed Education: Emerging Science in the Microbiome Market, and view the educational sessions from the Naturally Informed virtual event Microbiome: Mastering the Market, available on demand at no cost. Simply scan the code or visit
www.NaturallyInformed.net to access the sessions.
Parents are becoming more concerned about artificial sweeteners and flavors. “As a mom of two young children, I have seen first-hand how today’s parents are much more aware of the artificial ingredients that their children are consuming,” adds Caitlin Mack, Director, Digital and Brand Marketing at LesserEvil. “A good-tasting product is only one piece of the puzzle,” says Mack. “We want to be efficient and purposeful with the ingredients that are going into our children’s bodies. LesserEvil Lil’ Puffs are a rice-free, vegetable-oil-free puff. [They come in] fun flavors that are familiar to kids. We wanted to provide something that parents trust and their children are excited about eating.”
That applies to beverages, too. “As a parent, I was especially excited about the launch of our Uncle Matt’s Organic No Sugar Added Lemonade and Strawberry Lemonade Juice Boxes,” says Susan McLean, VP of Marketing and Innovation at Uncle Matt’s Organic. “These products taste delicious and contain 0% added sugar. Plus, they have the added benefit and functionality of Vitamin C, D and Zinc for immune support. The Tetra Pak shelf-stable format is incredibly convenient for lunchboxes and travel as well. There are many offerings for kids that are loaded with sugar as well as artificial colors, flavors, and ingredients. We are proud to launch an organic beverage option with vitamins and antioxidants for added functional and wellness benefits.”
These snacks and sips are only some of the new products that will have parents and their kids coming to the local natural products store. Check out our new grocery products on www.WholeFoodsMagazine.com more better-for-you snacks and plant-based options for children.