By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Ditch the “Happy Meals” To Keep Your Kids Healthy and Happy
This past September in a town called Holly Springs, North Carolina, a group of third-graders ditched recess and made a more than one mile trek to a local McDonald’s.
“As of press time, it was unclear if the students had planned on returning to school after presumably filling up on whatever McDonald’s they could afford, or whether they planned to hit up the Dairy Queen or Chick-fil-A restaurants that are also conveniently located on the route to the Holly Springs McDonald’s,” according to this news report.
This story may make you giggle, but it actually brings attention to a very large issue - America’s childhood obesity epidemic.
Sure, we don’t know if the children who played hooky to go get fast food are overweight or obese, however, recent data shows that almost one in five school-age children and young people aged six to 19 years in the United States have obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In case you haven’t guessed already, consuming fast food appears to be a major culprit behind this epidemic. Previous research has shown that nearly one-third of U.S. children eat fast food daily!
(In addition to this, another study found evidence which suggested that teens who consume fast food are at greater risk of developing depression).
And according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, “There is a strong link between the amount of fast food that pre-school age children consume and their likelihood of becoming overweight or obese.”
There is credible evidence suggesting that there is a link between eating fast food and children becoming overweight or obese. “But it hasn’t been clear whether eating fast food independently contributes to excess weight gain at such a young age,” according to the study report from Dartmouth.
The researchers followed a cohort of more than 500 pre-school age children (ages 3 to 5) and their families in southern New Hampshire for one year. The children’s height and weight were recorded at both the beginning and end of the study. Parents were instructed to report how often their children consumed fast food from 11 chain fast food restaurants on a weekly basis. The parents’ reports were generated via six online surveys, completed at two-month intervals.
According to the researchers, at the beginning of the study around 18 percent of the children were overweight and nearly 10 percent were obese. Furthermore, about 8 percent of the children “transitioned to a greater weight status over the one-year period.”
“To our knowledge, ours is the first study to follow a cohort over time and to show that fast food, by itself, uniquely contributes to weight gain,” said the lead author of the study.
“Unlike with past research, we were able to adjust for other factors—such as exercise and screen time—that could possibly explain away this relationship.”
First, it is important to acknowledge that America’s childhood obesity epidemic must be addressed immediately.
If our children are overweight or obese, the more likely they are to remain so as adults, which may increase their risk for a variety of diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, cancer, depression and diabetes.
The obvious solution is to limit having meals at fast food restaurants. Of course this is easier said than done when fast-food is readily available, cheap and your kid is asking for it!
But you may have to "put your foot down" and explain to them why fast food is not good for them. This has nothing to do with being skinny versus fat. It has to do with ,bein simply unhealthy! Encourage your child to eat healthily by explaining to him or her that their bodies need nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, to grow strong, play sports, feel happy and to help prevent various illnesses.
This may empower your child and motivate him or her to choose the healthier alternatives. Explaining health and nutrition to a child as young as three-years-old may seem impossible, but just explain it the same way you would explain anything else to a child so young. Remember, kids are super smart and will hold on to what you say more than you realize.
Here are some other tips you can follow to keep your child healthy and on the right track:
- Meal Prep. Involving your kids in the preparation of healthy meals has been associated with healthier food choices.
- Take your kid to the farmer’s market. This may help make healthy eating and meal prep fun and engaging for your child.
- Know that there is more to healthy meals than what goes on the plate. A recent study identified six components of healthy meals.
- Don’t forget the importance of water and hydration. The more water your kids drink, the less opportunities there are for them to drink sugary beverages such as soda and processed fruit juice.
- Monitor candies and other treats. Avoid sugar binges and make healthier treat alternatives more available.
- Don’t let your kids just lounge around during holiday and summer breaks. Get your kids up and moving!
- It’s not just the sugar. Watch the salt. Salty foods, particularly processed, packaged foods, may be the culprit behind your child’s weight issues.
- Conquer picky eaters. It is possible. Don’t give up, and the earlier you address this the better!
- Use colorful, segmented plates. You’d be surprised how much certain visuals may help your child eat healthier.
- Herbs and spices. These may be the secret weapons in getting your kids to eat more veggies. An added bonus is that herbs and spices are very nutrient-rich as well.
- Set the example. Emphasize how powerful the importance of healthy eating is by doing it yourself (not just telling).
- If your child does have type 2 diabetes (or other metabolic issues), you can still be proactive. Don’t ever give up!
Finally, in order to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic, it is important to make sure that our kids are nutritionally balanced. Have your child take routine comprehensive nutrient tests. If the test reveals your child has too much or too little of a certain nutrient, a competent healthcare professional can help with making the necessary dietary changes or recommend quality supplements if necessary.
Enjoy your healthy kids and your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.