WASHINGTON, DC — August 18, 2003 — American shoppers are taking more responsibility for their health and that of their family, but they want to do more, according to a new white paper from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), Healthy Lifestyles: From Parents to Kids.

The white paper, which highlights one section of the 2003 Shopping for Health report that will be jointly released by FMI and PREVENTION magazine in October, also finds that convenience is the major driver behind food purchases made by families with children, and that most consumers would like more information about eating a balanced diet.

“Parents with children in the household are aware of the importance of nutrition, and they recognize that high standards of nutrition are often unmet,” says Janice Jones, FMI director of research. “However, with time often in short supply, busy families are challenged to provide ideal meals in terms of nutrition.”

Consumers: Healthy Eating is a Challenge

In an age of super-sized fast-food meals and recreation dominated by computer games and music videos, American waistlines continue to expand. Nearly 65 percent of adults and 15 percent of children, aged 6 to 19, are overweight, and nearly a third (31 percent) of the adults are classified as obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even more concerning, the U. S. Surgeon General estimates that the number of overweight children and adolescents has nearly tripled in the past two decades.

Shopping for Health found that 74 percent of households with children and 63 percent of households with no children admit that their diets could be somewhat or a lot healthier. Survey participants offered five primary reasons they are challenged to maintain a healthy diet:

Too Busy to Eat Healthily — Many consumers believe that healthy meals must be fixed at home, and they do not have the time to prepare them. One-third of working women and 27 percent of families with children cited this issue.

Friends/Family/Fellow Diners Don’t Care — Educating friends and family members about nutrition and eating balanced meals is essential to accomplishing dietary objectives.

Healthy Fast-Foods Are Hard to Find — One-third of shoppers claim that they would like to see a greater variety of healthy menu options at fast-food restaurants. This is an even greater concern for time-pressed single parents, with 44 percent making this claim.

Healthy Foods Cost Too Much — Consumers generally believe that healthier foods cost more than less healthy ones. This is especially true among single parents with children (41 percent), who are more sensitive to food costs because of their dependence on one income.

Confusion About Health Claims — What qualifies a “healthy” product? Consumers remain confused and uncertain about what they should be eating.

Survey participants view home-cooked meals prepared from scratch, particularly dinner, as the most nutritious meal option — 96 percent believe these meals are very or somewhat healthy. However, fewer than half of these shoppers (46 percent) report that their family eats dinner together every day and 32 percent eat together fewer than five days a week. Single parents with children are even less likely to eat together.

Parents also view a child’s lunch as very important, since it is often eaten at school. Although cafeteria lunches provide more convenience for busy parents who do not have time to prepare a bagged lunch, 58 percent of the parents surveyed view the latter as a more nutritious option. However, parents are slow to take action. Almost half (49 percent) of the children in married households and nearly two-thirds (68 percent) of those in single-parent households take a bagged lunch to school less than once a week.

Children Influence Purchases as Parents Shop for Nutrition

The influence of children on food purchases is significant, with approximately two-thirds of parents including children in their food shopping visits almost always or sometimes, and nine out of 10 parents making a purchasing decision specifically because a child likes the item, with 46 percent almost always doing this and 45 percent sometimes, according to the report.

In addition to catering to their children’s likes and dislikes, parents frequently take into consideration their children’s nutritional needs in product selection. Nearly two-thirds of parents (65 percent) say they almost always consider whether a product is nutritious for their children and 30 percent consider their child’s nutritional needs at least sometimes. The report findings suggest that parents can use the food shopping opportunity to teach children about good nutritional choices.

Shoppers with children are especially interested in convenience, and the industry is responding with individualized product packaging in nearly every supermarket aisle. The single-serve products are ideal for school lunches brought from home or mobile moments in the car, for example, because they provide a quick, quality alternative to traditional sugar- and sodium-filled snacks. Complete meals in single-size portions are also becoming sought-after products — 40 percent of families with children regularly purchase these items.

Parents Seek Information and Guidance in Purchases of Healthy Foods

When asked about the importance of nutrition and health-related services and products at their grocery store, the majority of all shoppers indicate that having information available or having staff available to answer questions about nutrition is very or somewhat important to them.
Shoppers with children rate the importance of these services higher than those without children, and single-parent households are even more interested in these services.

Despite their good intentions, however, few shoppers indicate they have sought out information from store personnel. This could provide an opportunity for stores to be more proactive by offering relevant demonstrations or short programs in the store, according to the report.

“Healthy meal options are already there for those who are committed to a high standard of nutrition for their families,” adds Jones. “And now more than ever, food retailers are an important link in meeting this challenge for the health of individuals and the nation.”

To order a printed copy of Healthy Lifestyles: From Parents to Kids ($10 FMI members, $21 associate members, $25 nonmembers), visit the FMI Store at www.fmi.org/pub. FMI members can also download the report free of charge.