Childhood Health

(Written with Jeanne Schulz, RN, MSN)

The health of today’s children is in jeopardy.  In the last 10 years, diabetes in children has doubled; there’s a growing obesity epidemic among children, and we’re seeing heart disease start in children.

The consequences are so dire, in fact, that health authorities are now predicting that this generation of children will be the first to have a shorter life span than their parents.

So what habits are putting kids in jeopardy?

I have put together the 10 worst offenders but also issue this warning:  “Parents can’t force children to do anything they aren’t doing themselves, which is why parents also need to change their habits to become better role models.”

1)    Filling up on food made with white flour: White flour has zero nutritional value, which is why it should be banned from foods. White flour has been linked to obesity and cancer-causing cell developments.

Bottom line:  Don’t buy food made with white flour. Instead, choose 100 percent whole-grain products.

2)    Drinking soda: Soda is loaded with sugar (about 13 teaspoons per can) artificial sweeteners, caffeine and empty calories (about 150 in a regular soda). Plus, soda might displace healthy beverages like milk or water and cause tooth decay.

Bottom line:  Remove soda from your child’s diet and replace it with water, milk or other healthy, non-sweetened beverages.

3)    Not exercising: Today’s kids are leading inactive lifestyles, putting them at risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Bottom line:  Make physical activity as important for your kids as brushing their teeth.  By instilling the exercise habit in them when they’re young, they’ll be more likely to stick with it as adults.  Just remember that kids learn by example, so get active with them.

4)    Eating processed and barbecued meats: Your kids might love baloney sandwiches and hamburgers, but processed and barbecued meats have been linked to cancer, especially colon cancer.

Bottom line:  Steer your kids clear of this kind of meat, and instead, turn them on to more healthy, wholesome foods like fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and seeds.

5)    Being overweight: Approximately 16 percent of kids aged two to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  That extra weight could cause your child serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Bottom line: Clean up your diet, and your family will follow.  Likewise, become a regular exerciser, and encourage your children to get more active.

6)    Not eating enough fruits and veggies:  Fruits and veggies are loaded with disease-fighting nutrients, which is why kids who don’t eat enough are at greater risk for developing cancer and other chronic health conditions.  Also remember that eating a piece of fruit is much better than drinking a glass of juice.

Bottom line:  Make fruits and veggies the mainstay of meals, and your kids will easily get the servings they need.

7)    Too many hours in front of the TV: Watching TV and playing video games are sedentary activities that encourage snacking and often replace physical activity.  TV viewing also exposes your kids to risky behaviors like smoking and drinking, which could influence them.

Bottom line:  Limit your kids’ use of the TV and computer.  Children under two years old should not watch any TV, while kids over two should be limited to no more than two hours of media time a day, per the American Academy of Pediatrics.

8)    Noshing on sugary treats and foods:  Your kids might go gaga over treats, but they’re nutrient-poor, calorie-laden foods.  Most are also made with refined grains, which have been linked to cancer.  Plus, the more your kids eat these, the more they could begin craving them, which could eventually boost their weight.

Bottom line:  Limit sugar in your children’s diet as much as possible.  Ban sugary cereals, cookies and candy from your pantry.  Then become a savvy label reader, looking for hidden sugars in everything from granola bars to ketchup and even pasta sauces.  To satisfy a sweet tooth, serve fruit as a dessert or a snack.

9)    Eating fast food: By buying your children fast food, you’re giving them the lowest quality food, which adds calories, fat and little nutrition to their diets.  The end result?  You could wind up with an over weight, unhealthy child.  Plus, if they’re eating fried foods or food cooked at high temperatures, they’re consuming cancer-causing compounds.

Bottom line:  Limit or boycott all fast food.

10) Not getting enough vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to dozens of health conditions, including rickets, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  Sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, but most kids don’t spend enough hours outside to get all they need.  Plus, if you live in a northern climate, getting enough vitamin D in the winter can be impossible.

Bottom line: Make sure your child is getting 400 IU of vitamin D daily through a multivitamin and/or vitamin D supplement.

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