Our children are developing traditionally adult medical problems such as Type 2 Diabetes, sleep apnea, mechanical joint pain, and fatty liver disease at an alarming rate.
Fifteen years ago Type 2 Diabetes was rare in children; now, it accounts for 8- 45% (depending on ethnicity) of all diagnosis of diabetes in children.
We are in a frightening health crisis which will have as great an effect on our children as tobacco, drug and alcohol use. Nutrition education must be brought back to our schools as an important aspect of the curriculum.
We are now at the point where our children’s nutrition is a safety issue, and we need to act accordingly. We regularly place rules and regulations on our children (seat belts, helmets for bike riding, and penalties for use of foul language in school), but when it comes to observing and regulating our children’s food intake we become numbingly passive.
David Walsh, in his new book "No, Why Kids — of All Ages — Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It," stated: "We’ve finally reached the point that things are so out of balance, we need to get them back in balance. What we really need to do is to reclaim our ability to say NO to our children so that they can say it to themselves."
If we change our thinking and view nutrition as the most important health and safety issue for our children, the importance of these issues becomes undoubtedly clear. In other words, what children eat is the one of the most important medical therapies we can give them.
Many of our youthful patients are suffering from "malnutrition." Children who are not regularly fed breakfast, vegetables, fruits and milk are not receiving the proper nutrients they need for healthy minds and bodies. Children who eat diets that contain excessive saturated fats, trans fats, sugars and salt are taking in excessive amounts of calories leading to early puberty (from excessive production of steroids), abdominal fat deposition, adult diseases, and a worsening sedentary lifestyle.
Take a look at some advertising practices offered by the fast food industry that occurring in our local schools. Children who take part in an accelerated reading program are rewarded with coupons for free pizza or free donuts. We need to reward good behavior with non-food rewards. Teaching a child that sweet treats are a reward for good behavior will lead to adults who reward themselves with food when they’re feeling lonely, sad, happy, etc. Food is for nutrition; a movie is for good behavior.
As physicians we need to urge administrators to bring back Home Economics and Health Education for all students and to develop a nutrition curriculum mirrored after the successful DARE or anti-smoking campaigns. School menus and school-sponsored campaigns need to reflect these values also.
Our children’s nutrition has become a casualty of our fast-paced lives and the absence of families eating meals prepared at home. This cultural shift has occurred because the majority of family’s have both parents working or are a single parent household. This ever-increasing dynamic has resulted in the following fundamental changes in our young patient’s dietary habits:
• Insufficient consumption of milk and dairy products with replacement by regular sodas and juices.
• Insufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables.
• Young children and teens consuming excessive calories.
• Loss of traditional family heritage in the preparation of food and the ability to cook a meal.
• Parents ignoring children’s satiety clues. Younger children innately recognize when they’ve had enough. Listen to them. When children say they’re full, let them be excused from the table. Forcing a child to "clean their plate" sends the wrong message.
There are many forces working against our youth. To turn the tide on our obesity epidemic will take an increased amount of nutrition education for all ages. To stop the epidemic, this education will have to start with our children.