September is National Childhood Obesity Month, and we’d like to spread awareness by helping healthcare professionals teach parents about proper child nutrition.
Although most parents work hard to do what’s best for their children, sometimes they have flawed perceptions of what is actually healthy for them. Their own poor eating habits, lack of education, limited access to healthy food choices, and low incomes can influence their children’s diets. As health professionals, we can’t do much about a lot of these factors. But, to the best of our abilities, we can educate our patients about the consequences of poor nutrition and how to make healthier choices for a proper diet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that about 1 in every 5 children in the US is considered obese, and this statistic rises amongst certain groups of children. According to the CDC, being overweight or obese puts children at immediate risk for high cholesterol and high blood pressure (which are precursors to cardiovascular diseases), pre-diabetes, sleep apnea and bone and joint issues, as well as social and psychological problems.
In most cases, individuals who are obese as children are obese as adults. The long-term health effects then become heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis, multiple myeloma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and other cancers such as cancer of the:
- Esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder,
- Thyroid, breast, ovary, cervix, endometrium, prostate, and Colon
The CDC further explains that the main causes of childhood obesity are behavior, environment, and genetics. Behavior and environmental factors include things like lack of physical activity, lack of proper bedtime routine and lack of access to affordable, healthy food options. While there’s not always much we can do to change the environmental factor, we can encourage parents to change their behaviors.
It’s equally important for parents to know what foods they should and should not be feeding their kids. Parents should feed their children a diet that closely follows the Dietary Guidelines of America. These guidelines stress whole grains, fruit, vegetables, sources of lean protein, low- and non-fat dairy products, and lots of water. For more information about the appropriate quantities of each food group, parents can use ChooseMyPlate.gov for kids.
Incorporating healthier foods into a diet is the relatively easy part of the puzzle. The struggle is removing the fatty, sugar-loaded foods with additives and preservatives. Many of these foods are desirable because they’re convenient and are arguably considered part of America’s food culture.
Livestrong.com has an article about the top 10 worst foods for kids to eat that is a pretty good starting point for common foods that shouldn’t be in a child’s diet. Here are some of those foods, and the reasons why they are actually unhealthy:
- Breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup. Even the ones that say “whole grain” usually only have a slightly higher level of fiber, which wasn’t that much to begin with.
- Hot dogs are high in sodium and contain nitrates, which increase the risk of developing cancer.
- Chicken nuggets/fingers usually contain 20 or more ingredients other than chicken and are fried in oils with additives like dimethylpolysiloxane, which is an anti-foaming agent.
- Fruit snacks are also loaded with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, and sweeteners – no actual fruit.
- Packaged lunches often include deli meats that are high in sodium, crackers with simple carbohydrates, and deserts with unhealthy fats. Overall, these seemingly healthy prepared lunches actually provide very few nutrients.
- Other items on the list are sodas and kids’ meals.
As a health professional, you know that there is only so much you can do to help patients when it comes to eating properly. Sometimes the best you can do is arm parents with accurate information about nutrition and health risks and hope that they put this information into practice as they prepare their children’s meals.