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Can Retailers Impact Parents and the Childhood Obesity Epidemic?


As I begin to formulate my thoughts for this column, I find myself thinking about my 6- and 7-year-old boys Nick and Noah. I also think about spending my entire childhood overweight. I think about what I experienced from both a physical and psychological perspective, and I don’t want my boys to ever have to go through that.

One of the major challenges a parent faces every day is providing their kids with healthy foods to eat, and it is equally as challenging getting kids to consume those healthy foods. And, in this day and age of processed food, it takes more than the offering of a balanced, nutritious diet to raise a physically healthy child.

That said, the obesity statistics are scary. According to the American Heart Association, among children ages 2–19, about one in three are overweight and obese. Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults. This increases to 80 percent if one or both parents are overweight or obese. In fact, a Stanford University School of Medicine study showed that having obese parents is the factor that most increases the likelihood of childhood obesity.

Obesity is among the easiest medical conditions to recognize, but one of the most difficult to treat. Unhealthy weight gain is responsible for more than 300,000 deaths each year. The annual cost to society for obesity is estimated at nearly $100 billion.

The fundamental reason that children and adolescents become overweight and obese is blatantly obvious: there is an energy imbalance between the calories they consume and the calories they expend through exercise.

Interestingly, the escalating number of overweight and obese children is attributable to a range of factors beyond this basic dietary fact. The predominant causes of this epidemic include a shift in diet toward the increased intake of sugars and refined foods, and a trend toward decreased physical activity due to our profound 21st century sedentary lifestyle. This includes technology (video games), changing modes of transportation and increasing urbanization—all of which promote a less active lifestyle.

The problem with sugars and refined foods is that they are so addictive and exist in a wide range of processed foods. While there are plenty of reasons to avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates, is it realistic to think we can eliminate them from our children’s diet? That said, parents must educate themselves about nutritious foods and understand the labels on every food product purchased. And this is easier said than done. Sugars alone are too numerous to list here, but naturalbias.com provides a great list of sugars to avoid (http://naturalbias.com/types-of-sugarby- name/).

Another point to consider is that a vast majority of parents have sacrificed health for convenience. As parents try to balance careers with family, the temptation for convenience and processed foods is strong. Who has time to prepare a truly healthy meal? That said, as parents, we must look inward and assess the truly important priorities in life. Does it make sense to sacrifice the health of our children for convenience?

The combination of processed food (often in the form of fast food) along with sedentary lifestyles is creating a generation of children who are encountering maladies overweight adults commonly face including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and other diet-related conditions.

Additionally, children who are obese also must confront the many psychological issues that result from being overweight.These children often have low self-esteem, which is often made worse when they are unable to participate in normal activities. Teen eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia develop in response to feelings of body inadequacy.Obese children are teased, bullied and made to feel inferior by cruel counterparts. Further, depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder may also occur.

The Retail Role

Successfully tackling childhood obesity is a long-term, large-scale commitment that will require both individual responsibility and action together with community- based approaches. As a natural products retailer, what can you do? Educating parents is a great place to start.

Diet and Supplements. As previously mentioned, parents play a big part in shaping children’s eating and exercise Habits. In fact, according to researchers at UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, children tend to eat what their parents eat, which suggests a parental contribution to the growing obesity problem among young children and teenagers.

Researchers found adolescents are more likely to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day if their parents do. Moreover, teens whose parents eat fast food or drink soda are more likely to do the same. According to the study, more than two million California adolescents (62 percent) drink soda and 1.4 million (43 percent) eat fast food every day. Only 38 percent eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Now, I take many different supplements daily. My boys see the plethora of bottles and canisters in our bathroom and kitchen. They accompany me to the health food store to shop for vitamins— for both them and me. These experiences can be invaluable teaching moments for parents. As a natural products retailer, seize these opportunities with parents to teach them about the healthy foods and supplements that adorn your shelves. Talk to parents about why an overly salty or heavily sugared snack is not the best choice. As a parent, I am grateful to any health food store worker that takes the time to help me make better choices for my kids. This will go a long way toward having a customer for life as well.

Get Moving … Together. I always liked the idea of being a role model for my two little boys. I have been racing endurance events for more than three decades (triathlons and marathons), and I will periodically take my boys to my events. They get a thrill seeing me cross this finish line. And if they cannot make my events, I show them pictures of me doing the event. This is very powerful.Encourage your customers that they can set a similar example for their child by being active themselves. Take the kids swimming or go on a bike ride as an alternative to TV or video games. Show them that being active is fun.

In February of 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama presented her ambitious “Let’s Move” campaign to battle the terrifying childhood obesity epidemic.She was inspired not only by her family and her children’s lifestyle, but also by the previously mentioned terrifying obesity statistics that have been gathered by medical researchers over the past several years.

Interestingly, everything related to childhood obesity circles back to the parent. According to a 2006 Harvard School of Public Health, Department of Nutrition study, the authors concluded that preventing and controlling childhood obesity will require multifaceted and community-wide programs and policies, with parents having a critical role to play. Successful intervention efforts, the study’s authors argue, must involve and work directly with parents from the earliest stages of child development to support healthful practices both in and outside of the home.

Natural products retailers can have a profound influence on childhood obesity.

Retail staff should be proactive with their dialogue on this topic with parents.

Much of my weight problem stemmed from a lack of education.Here is where retailers can really have impact. This is all about our children and their health moving forward. And this can have a very positive domino effect. Will our children be able to teach our grandchildren about making healthy choices? Retailers can make a difference, so start today!


Agras, W., & Mascola, A. (2005). Risk factors for childhood overweight. Current Opinion In Pediatrics, 17(5), 648-652.

Lindsay, A. C., Sussner, K. M., Kim, J., & Gortmaker,S. (2006). The Role of Parents in Preventing Childhood Obesity. The Future Of Children, 16(1), 169-186.Doi:10.1353/foc.2006.0006.

Mark Becker has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years.He has written more than 250 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive supplement regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Check out his website at www.energyatlast.com, “like” him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ marklbecker and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/becker_mark.