On a recent trip to the zoo with my daughter, it was interesting to read a large sign posted near the snack bar vending machines which stated, “Do not feed this food to the animals. They may get sick and die.” The zoo veterinarians know very well that processed foods can endanger the health of animals-even 400 lb. gorillas, yet for many children, junk food is a mainstay in their diets.

Dr. Lendon Smith, a pediatrician and author of over 40 children’s books, has stated that kids’ immune systems are now half as strong as a decade ago, due in part to poor nutrition and the chemicals, preservatives, sugars, processing and additives being used. The over-prescribing of antibiotics was also cited as a factor.

Today’s youth have a 30-50% increase in obesity. We can look to fast foods, P.E. programs being cut in our schools, video games and our hectic “eat and run” lifestyle as the major culprits. In addition, kid’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels are way up. Even more alarming, children are no longer victim to just juvenile diabetes, where they are born with a pancreatic/insulin defect. Now they are also prone to develop Type II or adult onset diabetes, where the pancreas becomes ineffective due to overuse.

There is good news, though. Evidence shows a significant improvement in the health, behavior and learning ability of our children by a strong nutritional program. What are some beginning steps toward enhancing our kids’ diets? Number one is to read the label, not just the percentages, but the actual ingredients. To me, nothing represents more of a polluted kid product than “Lunchables” by Oscar Mayer. Not only is the ingredient list about two inches long, mostly with words you’d find difficult to pronounce, but the salt content (1410mg), and fat grams (18 g.) in one small serving make for a product I wouldn’t feed my dog!

Sugar is another area of major concern. As stated previously, the typical American child consumes an average of 125 to 175 lbs. of sugar per year, frequently ingesting more than their own body weight. The problem with sugar is that it robs the body of important nutrients.

Soft drinks contribute the most sugar, with an average of 10 tsp. in each serving. It is alarming that many of the nation’s schools have soft drink vending machines and fast food franchises right on campus, and often the proceeds fund vital school programs.

Water is the elixir of life. Make drinking water more accessible and more fun. Put it into a squeeze or sipper bottle, add fresh lemon or mint to it, serve it over ice and add a straw. Do not let kids eat NutraSweet or artificial sweeteners. The chemicals in these products have no place in a child’s body and the documentation is more than conclusive. Most importantly, talk to your kids about the role nutrition plays in their lives and involve them in the process.

Internet Resource Sites for further information on children’s nutrition:

—Cheri Bianchini, RN, PHN
© 2012, Cheri Bianchini. All rights reserved.

Blog Image: © Rick Ruggles, Photographer.