Kids functional food

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The focus on kids’ health has shifted with times. Normal childhood illnesses like mumps and measles are taken care of with routine vaccination. Today, with changing times, focus has shifted to more Lifestyle Diseases centering around growing problems of childhood obesity, hyperactivity, brain function, gut health and immunity. With this shift in focus has emerged a fast growing functional foods category for children.


Why should I be aware of this?

Functional foods are foods which provide health benefits beyond nutrition. The biologically active components in these types of foods may impart health benefits or desirable physiological effects. Functional attributes of many traditional foods are being discovered, while new food products are being developed with beneficial components. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fortified or enhanced foods and beverages, and some dietary supplements fall in the category of functional foods.

There is no clear definition of functional food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) defines functional foods as those "foods and food components that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition." Based on this definition, blueberries, which are rich in antioxidants that can neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, is also a functional food.

In a 2005 IFT Expert Report, functional foods were further defined as those that "provide essential nutrients beyond quantities necessary for normal maintenance, growth and development, and/or provide other biologically active components that impart health benefits or desirable physiological effects."

How does this affect me?

Rising concern about health and wellness concerns have carried the functional category from the sidelines to the mainstream.

The blame for this new wave of health problems among children is squarely put on the food industry, which in turn is citing unhealthy diets and lifestyles as the main reasons. They are not only putting their money into creating awareness for healthy eating but are also beefing up the nutritional content of their products.

More and more manufacturers are putting in their products ingredients that have functional benefits, particularly in relation to obesity and related diseases. The US consultancy firm TSG has estimated that the kids’ functional food and beverage category will grow to $26.8bn by 2011 from $16.4bn in 2007. Double digit growth will continue beyond 2012.

Collectively, the US, Europe and Japan account for approximately 90 percent of global consumption of functional food and beverage.

Larger companies are also going in for "superfruits" like acai, goji berries, noni and even pomegranates which, considering the demand for functional foods, are expected to go mainstream soon.

Kids' functional food and health

With childhood obesity on the rise, parents are more and more addressing this concern with diet. The TSG report identifies the key concerns parents try to address with functional foods. The report identifies obesity, hyperactivity, brain function, gut health and immunity as the key aspects of children’s health that are being addressed through diet.

According to the American Obesity Association estimates, in the US 30 per cent of children aged between 6 and 19, are overweight, and 15 per cent are obese. The obesity level in the US has gone up four-folds in the past 25 years.

The British Medical Journal in a research study found that in the UK 22 per cent of children, aged 7 to 11, were overweight and 11 per cent obese. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that childhood obesity has gone beyond the western countries with considerable obesity level rise especially in countries like China and Brazil in the last 30 years.

Hyperactivity in children

Hyperactivity in children is increasing blamed on a number of food additives. In January 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration had indicated that some artificial colors in food were linked to increased hyperactivity in children. Terming it as the "secret shame" of the food industry, the FDA called for ban on such colors.

The FDA move was prompted by the call from the UK Food Standards Agency asking manufacturers to phase out the additives from their products. Around the same time researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK, published in the prestigious journal The Lancet, a report stating that cocktails of a number of different artificial food colors and the preservative sodium benzoate exacerbate hyperactive behavior in children at least up to middle childhood.

As ingredients such as omega-3 and omega-6 are known for their combative effects on hyperactivity in children, it is felt that this category may soon gather speed in the food and supplement industry.

Brain function

Studies have highlighted that essential fatty acid supplements help children overcome learning and behavior problems and improve focus and concentration and perform better in schools. DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid, has increasingly been linked to brain and eye health by a number of scientific studies, something that has not escaped the attention of consumers. DHA plays a crucial role in brain development in infants and ongoing brain and eye function in children and adults.

Gut health

Digestion and immunity are two of the biggest concerns for mothers regarding their children’s health, and both of these are influenced by gut health.

The concept of functional food had been used in advertising for decades, and are said to be enriched with additional nutrients that with disease-preventing capabilities. Today everything from biscuits to grains are advertised as enriched with proteins and vitamins to provide maximum health benefits.

All about functional food

As today’s children are more prone to obesity, high blood pressure and type2 diabetes, focus has shifted to reformulating children’s products to contain more nutrients and less fat, calories, sugar and sodium. Soy is an important ingredient used in the functional food category because it helps reduce the amount of calories taken in. Studies have also shown that if girls eat soy while going through puberty, they are less likely to develop breast cancer later in life. Soy is also considered because of its cholesterol-lowering properties and satiety effect.

Calcium and other minerals

Calcium is also used in children’s nutrition and it has been found in several studies that calcium not only improves bone health but also helps reduce obesity. It is also vital in fighting rickets, which is showing signs of re-emerging in the US.

Apart from calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and potassium as other key minerals for kids’ nutrition. As kids are highly active they require the sustained, slow-release energy from complex carbohydrates, and not just sugar. Another growing area in kids’ nutrition is antioxidants such as green tea and carotenoids.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are playing an important role in healthcare, specially among children. One out of four consumers says they eat fruits or vegetables to prevent disease, one-in-three eat them to feel healthy, nearly nine-of-ten to stay healthy.

Obesity prevention

More consumers are preferring types of food which help prevent obesity. Even more than those seeking to prevent high cholesterol, or prevent heart disease.

Healthy Fats

Consumers are opting for healthier oils and avoiding other fats. Low in saturated fat is the most appealing fat-directed label claim. Half of all shoppers try to avoid trans fats.

Glycemic, Gluten, Grains

Some analysis show that low glycemic index foods are emerging as a leading trend, despite the lack of scientific consensus on the topic. More and more restaurants are going in for gluten-free menu. Multifaceted health benefits of whole grains are gaining recognition.

Extra energy

Need for extra energy is another reason for preference for functional food

90 degrees

Being easy carriers for vitamins and functional ingredients, beverages, accounting for 29 percent of total sales of the kids’ food and beverage market, currently constitute the largest segment. Moreover, their flexibility in time of consumption make them an attractive alternative.

Ice cream and frozen deserts is the second highest category constituting 17 percent of the total kids’ food and beverage market, followed by cereal 15 percent, lunch kits and sweet snack foods 8 percent each, and cookies and crackers make up 7 percent. Dairy products currently hold 4 percent of the market, while fruits and vegetables hold only 1 percent.

Antioxidant vitamins - added to orange and other fruit juices

Antioxidant vitamins, such as carotenoids, neutralize harmful molecules called free radicals in the body, and may promote healthy vision (lutein). These vitamins are also likely to lower the risk of certain cancers (lycopene).

ALA - being added to products such as pasta

Omega-3 fatty acids--eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fatty fish and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA ) found in walnuts and flax--are also associated with a reduced risk of coronary disease and may aid mental and visual function.

Flavonols--from anthocyanins found in berries

A variety of plant compounds called flavonols--from anthocyanins found in berries to catechins in tea--may also ward off damage from free radicals. While recent studies suggest tea may help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, the FDA says the evidence is not strong enough for a health claim.

According to some recent studies, flavonols in cocoa can benefit the cardiovascular system, leading candy makers to subtly market premium dark chocolate bars with 60 or 80 percent cacao (which is higher in flavonols) as heart-healthy foods.


Probiotics (friendly bacteria like lactobacillus that help combat not-so friendly bugs in the intestines) can aid gastrointestinal health.


  • Changing lifestyles drive functional food growth
  • FDA urged to ban artificial colors
  • TSG Releases Strategic Opportunity Overview of the Fast Growing Children's Food and Beverage Market
  • Kids’ health: a challenge for the food industry