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INDUSTRY VIEWPOINT: How do we get young adults to eat more fruits and vegetables?

The question is a persistent one, but now more than ever we find ourselves wondering why we are still asking when we live in a society that is characterized by abundance.

It's shocking, but a recent University of Toronto study found that as many as one in seven young Canadian adults may be deficient in Vitamin C, potentially placing them at increased risk for chronic health problems.

When scurvy was epidemic among sailors and pirates at sea for months, where perishable fruits and vegetables could not be stored, this can be understood. But it is very surprising when our North American youth are simply choosing not to eat their fruits and veggies.

It's really quite simple - and yet not. When our parents ever so wisely advised us, "don't do this" and "don't do that," as young adults many of us rolled our eyes; and their tireless refrain of "eat your vegetables" sounded more like punishment than the useful advice it was intended to be. Looking back, as some of us boomers would say, "I can see clearly now."

As impressionable youngsters, we listened to other kids -- the "cool kids" -- and in our "know-it-all" teens, we really thought we actually knew it all. In The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell calls the cool kids "connectors" or "mavens." They had the power.

So how do we tap into this world of young adult "connectors" and "mavens?" We could try hanging out where they hang out (while trying not to look too obvious, that is) and observe their behaviour. We might pay attention to their every move - the clothes they wear, the way they speak to one another, the movies they watch, the music they listen to, the games they play on the Internet and where they shop. Then, we could identify who their connectors and mavens are.

The challenge is to then create a groundswell of behaviour among connectors and mavens that will influence their peers to observe and imitate.

This technique has worked in the fashion industry for decades, and we can learn from their clever examples. Using the same tactics they employ to say, make it cool to wear a ball cap sideways or pierce a Navel, we can create a buzz for eating a navel orange or a particular variety of apple. If the cool kids at a concert are sporting the latest designer labels and eating Granny Smith apples, we just might have a chance.

Easier said than done perhaps, but how about donating a crate of Granny Smith apples to a popular rock band, and they all eat apples as they come on stage? As the throng of teens exits the stadium, we could hand out Granny Smith apples to everyone -- including the connectors and mavens in the crowd. Will there be a run on Granny Smiths? Perhaps not right away, but in the weeks and months that follow the concert, they may just connect the pleasure of the concert experience with eating Granny Smith apples, and when listening to that band's music, they may use Granny Smith apples to taste that experience again. They may then start to either ask their parents to buy some or source the apples themselves.

We may soon observe young adults eating Granny Smith apples while at school in the lunch room because it was their idea to ask their parents to purchase them. And they might eat their Granny Smith apples in front of their peers, who may also think it's cool to eat Granny Smith apples.

To further create a desire for the apple, we can create associative behaviors by having the connectors and mavens doing something in particular while eating a Granny Smith apple, like riding on the public transit system. "Green," after all, is "sick" and that would be the message of the day.

Furthermore, we can support any and all efforts to make fresh fruits available at the kiosks in the public transit system. As a responsible society, we would install green bins on the public transit for the apple cores that could then be delivered to an organic recycling company that would turn the apple cores into biogas, feeding the electrical grid that then would assist with providing the power needed for those new wonderful electric cars thus cutting down on gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption and wow, we can save the planet.

Why shouldn't we "shoot for the stars," as they say? Because if we don't, we risk raising a generation that will suffer the consequences. Our young adults and our environment can be much healthier. Let's work together to inspire a behaviour that drives young adults to eat more fruits and vegetables "because it's cool."

(Virginia Zimm is president of Faye Clack Communications Inc., which has been promoting agriculture and the food and beverage industries for more than 30 years.)