Stroll down the cereal aisle in any supermarket, and you’ll practically see flashing neon signs touting heart-healthy benefits, from starbursts to taglines. In case you missed the message, one cereal even forms the shape of a heart that dominates the front of the box.
The marketing strategy is clear: Eat these foods and protect your heart by cutting your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But what about other chronic health issues that Boomers are at risk for?” According to Innova Market Insights, the connections between food and digestive health, energy, heart health and immune health are frequently made in marketing. But other age-related health issues, such as hearing loss and sight-robbing eye issues such as macular degeneration, don’t get nearly the attention.
For example, a leading canned salmon brand bears the heart-shaped label “Heart Healthy Omega 3,” but the link between Omega 3 and eye health that some studies have reported is nowhere to be seen. Research by Innova found that the U.S. is a highly developed market for eye supplements, but the food market lags behind. However, a report by Leatherhead Food Research found that food products offering health claims that address cognitive and mental decline as well as eye health are growing, so this trend might be on the upswing.
According to the Bright Focus Foundation, the risk for age-related macular degeneration increases from 2% for those people aged 50-59 to nearly 30% for those over the age of 75. By 2050, nearly 22 million people will have some type of this vision-stealing disease.
These numbers are concerning, especially since the Ocular Nutrition Society found that 78% of Boomers rank eye health as the most important of their five senses. However, fewer than 50% of Boomers are aware of the role of nutrients that contribute to eye health. (Most of us have heard that carrots are good for our eyes but may be fuzzy on sight-benefiting nutrients in other foods, such as green leafy vegetables, oily fish and certain fruits.)
Friends of mine who live in a retirement community talk frequently about the devastating impact that macular degeneration has had on their fellow residents. Now in their early 80s, this couple’s vision is fine (after cataract surgery), and they eat defensively by packing green leafy vegetables and fish into their diet. Unfortunately, vision loss has diminished quality of life for many of their neighbors, leaving my friends to be the designated drivers for trips to doctors’ appointments and outings to movies or plays.
I’m not advocating overstating claims or manufacturing benefits, but it’s important for us all to keep in mind that Boomers face other life-altering health issues besides the ones we hear about the most. I, for one, will be watching for changes in food marketing trends — at least as long as my eyesight holds up.