Wrong to teach kids about nutrition?

Parents, kids and food education
This article was inspired by an unfortunate disagreement that had arisen between me and someone I know. This disagreement was sadly over my efforts to encourage healthy eating in my Daughter (who was a very aware and conscious 5 year old at the time) and from the education I had provided her regarding the benefits and the potential dangers of unhealthy food. My efforts with my daughter and with many other people whose lives and healths I have helped improve over the years, have never been based on exaggerations, or scare tactics. My efforts, identical to my articles, views, values and philosophies in nutrition, have always been influenced and supported by scientifically validated facts and evidence as well as logical rationale.

This is an important point to note. I don’t believe in lying to my child in the same way I don’t expect my child to lie to me. In fact I have a real hard time with the whole Santa thing and just avoid the question when she asks me. I don’t believe in discouraging them from eating crisps by telling them, “if you eat crisps you’ll get cancer”. I don’t agree with scaring them into eating healthy food. In contrast I disagree with saying things like “if you eat your vegetables you can have dessert” as I also don’t agree with bribing them to eat healthy food with the reward of eating unhealthy food afterwards either. In fact it completely contradicts my point of promoting healthy food over unhealthy food. I don’t agree with distorting the truth in any way or promoting unhealthy eating habits to promote healthy eating to kids, at all.

Sometimes the best way to teach a child, is to teach a child. Sometimes a child needs to learn and know instead of being told what to do or what not to do. If you can educate a child on why they should be eating healthy food, why they should only eat chocolate sparingly, then that’s half the battle. Once a child is aware of the effect on health food can have, based solely on facts, it’s human nature and instinct to avoid or at least reduce contact with things that we know could be harmful to us through behavioural change. This works particularly well in children, more so than in adults because children function through more primal instincts and emotions. Where as with maturity, comes the complex advancement in attitudes, willful ignorance, pride and stubborn behaviours which can of course have a negative effect on one’s on health.

Ignorance is far more common in adults especially with regards to health. Ignorant not just about nutrition, but willfully ignorant to acknowledge anything that may challenge their current paradigm, regardless of logic or fact. But that’s a discussion for another article. Children’s instincts and emotions are far simpler. They are more instinctive in nature in the respect that they show less ignorance to dangers in general. This instinctive nature can guide children in making healthier food choices. Based on this they can potentially show much more enthusiasm in being healthy, particularly when they understand and are aware of the negative effects such things can have on their health. In the same way a child can learn to associate strangers or say a wasp with negative connotations you can also create a negative association with unhealthy food.

This brings me swiftly to my point. This is how I have educated my daughter. I’ve made her aware of facts and educated her on how to be healthy. She can tell the difference between refined and wholegrain carbohydrates, with a fairly good understanding of which ones can lead to sharp rise and falls in blood sugar and which ones don’t. Some kids her age are still learning the alphabet or their months, but my Daughter has been able to distinguish all the major muscles on the body from gastronemus to trapezius with near perfect pronunciation from the age of 4. What’s great is that she generally enjoys learning about food and is always quizzing me for information and then randomly recites information back to me two weeks later, much to my surprise and satisfaction. I would say she is the epitome and vision of what many public health professionals including myself want for the future of children in this country.

 It’s now becoming more common for children to get diagnosed with adult onset type II diabetes despite the fact its usually diagnosed in adults over the age of 40, children that are now on medication because of an adopted, family drawn perception that has been perpetuated by clever food marketing in the media, that certain refined and processed foods are normal foods to eat and are part of our staple diet. But yet my daughter knows what diabetes is. Not only does she know what it is she’s aware of what foods are potential promoters of it and she limits her intake of them foods. Given that there are more children now obese and overweight with diet related diseases than ever before, the importance of this can’t be down-played or shrugged off.

Chocolate is NOT food. Crisps are NOT food. Refined, processed, chemically altered, artificially made, aggressively manufactured, contaminated man made junk is NOT food. If it does not grow from natural vegetation teach your child to limit their intake of it and educate them about why.

So what age is the right age to tell a child fruit offers many nutrients that help you learn better at school? when is the right time to tell a child a diet high in sugar will decay their teeth and can lead to health problems? when is the right time to tell them that having crisps for lunch will only provide empty calories that will not give them lots of long lasting energy to play with their friends at break? when is the right time to tell a child the saturated fat in McDonald’s burgers is not good for their heart and to be weary of marketing ploys designed to appeal to a child’s immediate desires? The main point of being a parent is to look after and protect your child. It’s to provide them with the best quality of life possible. Then surely wouldn’t the right answer to the question; when is the right time to teach kids about health? be at the very least, sooner, rather than later?

I may be criticised for teaching my daughter things she “doesn’t need to know about at her age” but at least I know with confidence my Daughter is not part of the huge public health crisis where many of today’s kids will grow up unhealthy, over weight, nutrient deficient and lacking fundamental food education to protect them from diet related diseases in the future. Now that for me, is a comforting thought and well worth the criticism.

Kids, Parents and Energy Drinks

One thing I have noticed lately which quite frankly is not only personally upsetting, is the increased consumption of carbonated energy drinks around training and particularly bought by parents for their kids. These drinks, despite their marketing, are a terrible way of boosting energy especially around training and even more so for youngsters. Here are 4 reasons why….

1. Carbonation – These types of drinks which often have different types of acid in them irritate the stomach and cause gastrointestinal stress but carbon dioxide or CO2 is what the sticky ‘fluid’,if you want to call it that, has been pumped with. Drinking this can of liquid and gas can cause a lot of internal disruptions in the gut. This is made worse when the blood from the stomach moves towards working muscles when exercise has begun. Stomach cramps, bloating and even stomach ulcers are likely side effects. Children are particularly susceptible to these side effects due to their sensitive and undeveloped bodies.

2. Caffeine – Remember most of these drinks contain caffeine and don’t forget that caffeine is still a drug. Caffeine gives the user an energetic feeling, however, it is false energy perceived via the stimulation of the central nervous system and the production of adrenaline like hormones. If you have kids or have even seen them on the bus after school, they are already very wired and hyperactive in nature. Synthetically stimulating a child’s central nervous system can promote dependence and can often cause them to feel anxious and jittery. Caffeine will also disrupt their sleeping pattern more than it will affect an adult. The British Soft Drinks Association recommends these drinks are “Not suitable for children” and they state such drinks may not be promoted or marketed to persons aged under 16. Those recommendations are definitely there for a good reason.

3. Glucose – is carbohydrates in its most elementary form. Sugar only provides short term energy, intense and even short training sessions will out last the duration of energy given by sugar. Glucose causes a rise in blood sugar then a quick crash due to a storage hormone called insulin that will take excess sugar out of the blood, but too quickly, bringing your sugar levels to subnormal levels. This will cause a fatigued and weak feeling that is often associated with shakiness and hot/cold flushes, the technical term for this is hypoglycemia. Slow digesting carbohydrates will give a slow release in sugar and will not accompany such negative effects on energy levels. On top of that sugar can encourage weight gain and potentially insulin resistance which is why kids today are being diagnosed with diabetes which is usually considered an adult disease.

4. Acids – Carbonic acid and phosphoric acid are two common acids found in all fizzy drinks. Not only are they great for cleaning toilets and polishing up dirty old pennies but they’re great for stripping your tooth enamel away too. We’ve all heard about the tooth in a glass of coke experiment, literally dissolving it in a matter of days, while a tooth in a cup of milk preserves the tooth. Well this should be seen as an obvious warning to parents and the public that these drinks are terrible for our teeth, let alone the immature teeth of children’s. Everyone hates the dentist so don’t give your dentist the satisfaction of seeing you squirm by encouraging another early trip!

So there are 4 reasons why energy drink consumption should be approached with caution and completely avoided for kids. I could give you more but I want you to reflect on these important points to make an informed and educated decision to think about the aspects and effects these drinks have on you and your family before you buy the next one…

…until next time, stay fit, eat clean, and be healthy!Ki