07 Jun 2018 --- Despite high awareness of the importance of nutrition for new and expectant mothers and infants, there is very low understanding of the actual benefits of dietary supplements, pointing to a clear role for industry to offer guidance and support. This is according to Isobel Smyth, Managing Partner at The Leading Edge, who spoke during the Passionate About Kids’ Nutrition event hosted by DSM in Amsterdam yesterday.
In 2017, The Leading Edge conducted a study for the Early Life Nutrition team at DSM, looking at maternal and infant health and nutrition across the globe. Spanning five continents and 12 different countries, the study included nearly 12,000 women who were either trying to conceive, pregnant, nursing or weaning.
“[We] talked to them about their health, but we also about their infant’s health, at pre-weaning stage, weaning and slightly older children, Smyth tells NutritionInsight. “The one thing that really stands out in the study’s results is that when you talk about dietary supplements, women are overwhelmed by the amount of information and their understanding about which sources they can trust and where they should go to, seems to be [lacking].”
Speaking about women trying to conceive, Smyth notes that the pressure of everyday healthy lifestyles can be overwhelming for some as they become more aware of the factors that may negatively impact their health. According to the study’s findings, women in this stage are significantly more likely to worry about managing their stress levels. As a result, 43 percent of women trying to conceive are looking for general nutritional support for mother and baby from dietary supplements.
Further findings showed that pregnant women are the most active in taking supplements, and specifically those for baby, with 62 percent of respondents in this segment taking folic acid, and 49 percent claiming the usage of a prenatal specific dietary supplement.
However, pregnant women are only marginally more aware of the actual benefits of supplementing their diet, despite the high use.
Speaking about the use of folic acid, Smyth notes that many women in this stage focus on promoting general good nutrition and support for brain development, with 92 percent of pregnant women aware of the micronutrient, but only 15 percent aware of its benefits for reducing the risk for neural defects.
For young infants, The Leading Edge’s research shows that developing a strong immune system is the number one priority for mums, with 40 percent of those interviewed mentioning this as a concern. Other key areas of concern are healthy brain development in APAC and China, as well as maintaining a healthy weight and height.
“We saw a desire across the world for quality reassurances played back to us through many attributes – from official approval and recommendation through to best quality ingredients,” Smyth notes. “‘Approved by…’ claims are especially important in Germany (39 percent) and Spain (36 percent), compared to 26 percent global – but this is of least importance in China, where the focus is on trust, in terms of country of manufacture (47 percent) and trusted brand (38 percent).”
Click to EnlargeAcross the board, the study points to opportunities for manufacturers to help support and reassure women at this time, by providing clear information on the benefits of supplements and dietary tools.
“We have done other research in this area which also suggests that there is so much conflicting advice that comes through to women and at different stages they have different levels of interaction with healthcare professionals to give them that solid guidance. They tend not to fully understand what the benefits of certain supplements may be,” Smyth says.
“Manufacturers have a clear role [in improving understanding and communication around supplements], by ensuring that they really understand women and their anxieties and what they are worried about in different stages. Being able to give them support and advice and being a beacon in the sea of information that is out there is really something they could do better at.”
“But also by partnering with other parties, such as governmental bodies, where women might go to for advice, will give companies credibility in this space as well and create a sense of trust for women and mothers. This also puts women and children back at the heart of what manufacturers are doing,” she concludes.
As the average age at which women are becoming a mother for the first time increases, health aspects such as energy levels and stress (both physical and mental) are likely to become more prominent. This could point to a larger role for targeted supplements and dietary guidance, leaving the industry with the task of creating products that resonate with women during this exciting stage in their lives.
By Lucy Gunn