Health Risks for Children

Health Risks for Children

What parent wouldn’t want to give the gift of good health and a lifetime of good eating habits to his or her children?  As a parent and a pediatrician I feel very strongly that we, as parents, have a job to do in protecting and nurturing our kids. We suffer as much as our child does with every cold, fever, cut, bruise, ache, and pain. We do our best to protect them by using car seats and bike helmets, and by being watchful parents.

We would not knowingly expose our child to a deadly virus or bacteria. Yet, many parents allow unhealthy eating habits for their children, putting them at risk for disease. This is the disease that we don’t see, disease that lurks under the surface, within the cells, within the arterial walls, and within the bones of our children. This is not as obvious to us, nor will it become obvious until many years down the line, perhaps, long after we’re gone.

Health Risks for Children

We are talking about the degenerative diseases of aging, like heart disease, stroke, arthritis, macular degeneration, diabetes, and cancer. These processes are heavily influenced by our diet, but most of the research so far has focused on the adult diet. However, many of the changes have already started in childhood. Our children must begin early and learn a healthy style of eating to give them every advantage later in life. We may be able to change their odds by understanding nutrition and nutritional supplementation and its role in preventative medicine.

Health is one of our greatest concerns of today. Many baby boomers are previewing death as they watch their parents suffer through many of the degenerative diseases of aging. We want to change our odds. Some of us are driven to pursue health by hiring fitness trainers, starting weight loss programs, trying to eat healthfully, and trying more “natural remedies” to treat disease. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually, we are seeking answers about health.

Health Risks for Children

Health trends that are influenced by nutrition include:

Obesity on the Rise. Obesity now affects 1 in 5 children in the United States. Obesity is the most prevalent nutritional disease of children and adolescents. From 1963 to 1980, obesity among U.S. children has increased by 54 percent in 6 to 11 year olds and by 40 percent in adolescents.  Since 1991, obesity among adults has increased by nearly 60 percent. These obese children will most likely become obese adults and carry all the extra risks for diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Obesity is much easier to prevent than to cure and prevention in childhood should be our primary target.

Cardiovascular Disease is the Number One Killer. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and in many Westernized countries around the world. As more countries adopt Western diets and lifestyles, the incidence of heart disease is climbing. It is estimated that healthy lifestyles–including a low-fat, high-fiber diet and exercise–can reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 80 percent.

Cancer on the Rise in Children. Federal health experts have concerns about why cancer rates are on the rise in children. Childhood cancer has risen almost 11 percent in the past decade.  Cancer has become the leading cause of death due to disease among children. It is second to trauma as a cause of death. In recent years, deaths from cancer have declined because of earlier detection and improved treatment, but experts are concerned that survival rates could be eclipsed because of the rising rates of new cases. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, author of the Antioxidant Revolution, feels that environmental toxins are in part responsible for this increase. Some experts estimate that as many as 80 percent of cancers are caused by environmental factors. Antioxidants found in foods are critical to battling the environmental effects that may lead to cancer formation. In addition, obesity can also increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Health Risks for Children

Allergies and Asthma Now Affect Millions of Children. The 1996 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that asthma affects over 14 million Americans. This is nearly double the rate from 1980. Almost 5 million of these asthmatics are children. The role of air pollution and other toxins has been implicated in contributing to this rise in allergies and asthma. The diet of a developing infant and child can influence the severity and onset of allergies. Early food exposures can program a child?s immune system to activate future allergies to foods and other air-borne allergens, like dust, mold, and pollens. In addition, children and adults who are overweight have a higher risk for asthma.
Calcium Deficiency Leads to Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis affects 25 million Americans a year and contributes to approximately 1.3 million bone fractures per year, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. The process of gradual bone loss occurs throughout adulthood, so what is built up early in life is critical to minimizing the effects of bone loss later in life. The average calcium intake in adolescents is about half of the RDA.  Our children and teens need to understand that this time in their life is their only chance at building bone.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Learning Disabilities Increasing. In the United States, ADD appears to be rising. Statistics from 1998 estimate that 3 to 5 percent of school-aged children have ADD. The influence of diet on this problem is still unclear. However, we do understand that nutrient deficiencies can affect neurologic function and may influence learning and behavior. Iron deficiency anemia can have a permanent impact on IQ potential and motor development. Fats are another very important nutrient that affects brain development, especially in infants. Breast milk is 50 percent fat and has the right type of fats that allow for optimal brain development.



Hot dogs and bologna are typical “kid foods,” but they contain risks if eaten in large amounts. Nitrates are preservatives found in virtually all cooked and cured meats. Nitrates have a cosmetic function in that they preserve the pinkish color of meats. The concern with nitrates is that when they combine with gastric juices in the stomach, they form a chemical called nitrosamine. Nitrosamines have been found to be carcinogenic in most species of animals tested. Antioxidants like vitamin E, A and C when consumed at the same time may offer protection against its cancer-causing effects. The US government requires meat packers to add ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to meats with nitrates.


Nitrates also have an effect on the hemoglobin which carries oxygen in the blood cells. High levels of nitrates cause “blue baby syndrome,” a condition caused by lack of oxygen in the blood. Because infants have less hemoglobin, they are at risk for side effects from nitrates. Nitrates are banned from baby foods because of this recognized toxicity. Other symptoms of nitrate toxicity can include difficulty breathing, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Some European countries have banned nitrates from their food supply.


For this reason, foods with nitrates should be given sparingly to children. Look for nitrate-free meats and hot dogs in the freezer section. Vegetarian hot dogs do not contain nitrates. If your child does eat food with nitrates, have them eat or drink something high in vitamin C at the same time. Also marinating meats in honey marinades can reduce the nitrosamine formation in grilled foods – but remember honey is not to be given to infants under a year of age.

Also checkout: 4 Critical Things Managers Ignore When Creating an Axie Infinity Scholarship Program

Healthy Eating Tips: The Overeater

Healthy Eating Tips: The Overeater

Here are some facts about diet and obesity:

  • Much of the decline in diet quality for children occurs between the age groups two to three and four to six. During this period, the percentage of children having a good diet falls from 35 to 16 percent, and the percentage having a diet that needs improvement rises from 60 to 75 percent.
  • For young children, an extra 50 calories a day of unburned calories (not used for growth, activity or metabolism) can create five extra pounds of fat a year.
  • Between one and two years of age, normal weight gain is about 2 to 3 pounds a year. Between three and eight years old, expected weight gain is about 5 pounds a year. So those extra 50 unburned calories a day can double the expected weight gain.
  • Currently 22% of the US Adult population has a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 and 3% have a BMI greater than 40 – about 100 pounds overweight. See Health Trends.
  • If a baby between 6 months and 5 years of age is overweight, he has a 20% chance of being overweight as an adult. An overweight 7 year old has a 41% chance of being overweight as an adult. If the child is between 10 and 13 years of age and overweight, the chances are 70% he/she will be overweight as an adult.
  • Children who were overweight at age seven were more likely to have multiple risk factors for heart disease as an adult. There was more risk for having increased insulin levels, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Reduction in the rate of weight gain during childhood or adolescence had the potential to reduce the levels of young adult cardiovascular risk.
  • Children may think they are being active, but a research study showed that when kids (ages 11 to 13) were electronically monitored they were spending far more time sitting around than they thought. Children who said they played vigorously for one hour a day, actually had spent about 2 minutes being vigorously active.
  • Soft drinks contribute significantly to the increased sugar load in our diets.
  • Americans are eating more processed snack foods a day than ever. There are about 12,000 new foods introduced annually each year.

What is a parent to do when faced with the challenge of a child who is overweight?

What is overweight?

First we need to define what it means to be overweight. Growth charts need to be used; you can’t always tell by looking. Sometimes an overly concerned parent, may assess their truly normal-weighted child as being overweight. On the other hand, studies have shown that many parents tend to overlook their child’s obesity. New growth charts have been released by the Center for Disease Control and you can download the “Individual charts with all percentiles” at Especially important are the “weight-for-length,” “weight-for-stature,” and “body mass index for age” charts for your child’s age group. Body mass index (BMI) has advantages over other methods of monitoring obesity in children and adolescents and the charts can be downloaded for children 2 to 20 years of age. It correlates closer to actual body fat measurements.


Here is how to calculate Body Mass Index:

BMI = (Weight in pounds ÷ [Height in inches ]2) x 703
Example: A 33 pound child is 37 inches tall

(33 ÷ [37 x 37]) x 703 = (33 ÷ 1369) x 703 = 0.024105 x 703 = 16.9

Metric Formula:

BMI = Weight in kilograms ÷ [Height in meters]2
Example: A 17 kg child is 106 cm tall (NOTE: 1 meter = 100 cm)

17 kg ÷ (1.06 m x 1.06 m) = 17 ÷ 1.1236 = 15.1

Here is how we can interpret BMI percentiles:

Underweight: BMI-for-age 5th percentile
At risk of overweight: BMI-for-age 85th percentile
Overweight: BMI-for-age 95th percentile

Identifying Risks

Now let’s say you have identified your child as being overweight or at risk for being overweight. Maybe you have just started to notice a recent trend of increasing BMI. First, check with your health care professional to make sure that there may not be a medical cause for weight gain. Occasionally, hormone disorders like hypothyroidism, may cause subtle weight gain without the child appearing ill. Once you are comfortable with a medical examination, think about changes in eating habits or caretakers that may be contributing to weight gain. Sometimes a change in the child’s lifestyle can be identified as a contributor to overeating or just eating more unhealthy food choices. Here are some questions to ask yourself: 

  • Is there a daycare provider, nanny, or relative that allows constant snacking or frequent, unhealthy snack choices?
  • Have family activities or busy schedules allowed more fast food on the run to creep into the family menu?
  • Has there been environmental changes that don’t allow exercise – new neighborhood without playmates or the convenience of outdoor areas to play, family stress, more sedentary activities around like Nintendo, Game Boy, computers, TV in the bedroom of the child, off season for your child’s usual sport activity?
  • Does your child have a physical problem that may limit activity, like asthma, orthopedic problem?
  • Are other family members also struggling with weight issues or more recent weight gain because of family lifestyle and eating habits?

Sometimes, in examining these questions honestly, we can identify risk factors or changes in our lifestyle that may be contributing to our child’s weight gain.

Healthy Eating Tips: The Overeater

Fats for Toddlers

Toddlers should not be restricted in their fat intake. There brain is laying down lots of new neuronal cells that need fat. See Essential Fatty Acids for more information on this concept. It does not mean allowing unlimited high-fat, high-sugar foods. Here are some guidelines for toddlers: 

  • Make sure you are offering whole milk, not two percent, one percent or non-fat until after two years of age. Toddlers need the extra fat for brain development. They may receive more than 40 percent of their daily calories as fat.
  • This does not mean allowing unlimited fat and butter.
  • Once children have reached two years of age, decrease milk to one percent or two percent. If you feel your toddler is overweight, talk to your pediatrician to see if this is really the case. Many toddlers appear chubby, but are proportional on the growth curves. If your toddler is on the heavy side, you may want to use one percent milk.
  • The American Society for Nutritional Sciences and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition are looking to give children their own dietary guidelines. Rather than insisting that children consume a low fat diet (less than 30 percent of calories derived from fat) after age two, the 1995 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that there be a gradual change in dietary fat intake between the ages of two and five towards the heart-healthy diet.

Practical Tips of Controlling Weight Issues

Remember, that prevention is the key. If your child is at risk according to BMI calculations and over two years of age, you can start to take some simple steps to intervene. Being overly concerned about a child’s weight may lead to the development of eating disorders. If your child is slightly chubby and worried about their weight, try to make him feel comfortable about his image. Even if he is markedly overweight, let him know he is still special! 

Having family members accuse a child of being fat is destructive to the his self-esteem. The key with overweight children is, not making them go on a diet or go hungry, but by offering them healthy food choices, cutting out high fat snacks, and encouraging exercise. Nagging, criticizing, and pressuring them is not the way to handle the overweight child.

It also has to be a family-oriented issue and not just directed at the overweight child. Most often, it is about the family lifestyle or eating habits. If dad is allowed to eat candy and sweets in front of the child and the child is told, “No,” resentment and battles will most likely follow. The most successful weight-loss programs for children are those that are also directed to an overweight parent losing weight, also.

Children have the advantage over adults in that they are still gaining height. Usually, the goal is not necessarily weight loss, but a slow up in the rate of gain. This is often enough to create a thinning effect as they age.

Here are some practical tips for controlling weight problems and overeating in children: 

  • Prevention is the key. Following growth throughout childhood can identify children at risk. If children are overweight before adolescence, the goal is to try to maintain the same weight. This way, as children gain in height, they will thin out.
  • Have the whole family model healthy eating patterns. If the child is discouraged from certain food choices, but other family members are allowed those choices, the child will feel singled out as having a problem. Make healthy eating a family choice.
  • Add a family physical activity, like walking or biking.
  • Don’t calorie-restrict children. Don’t take the message of dieting or low fat or no fat eating to the extreme. Don’t obsess with your child over every fat gram and sugar calorie. The goal is to make better choices, but still fulfill a normal eating pattern.
  • Decrease fat intake. With many lower fat choices of foods available, this is getting easier. However, don’t be fooled. Even low fat foods in excess quantities can lead to weight gain, and some low fat foods are high in sugar.
  • Don’t forbid junk food and the less healthy foods, just use them less often.
  • Limit fast foods.
  • Cook at home with low fat cooking techniques.
  • Share meals when eating out. Pick healthier choices off the adult menu, rather than limiting their choices to the Kids Menu.
  • Use more grains, soy (like tofu), and beans instead of meats.
  • Use a snack plan. See Get Kids to Eat Great and Love It!
  • Make water the beverage of choice over juice and soda.
  • Use one percent or non-fat milk. (REMEMBER: Children under two years of age are encouraged to drink whole milk to obtain the extra fat they need for brain development.)
  • Encourage and find physical activities that the child enjoys.
  • Limit television, computer, and video game time.
  • Don’t allow snacking in the car, in front of the television, or while doing homework. Studies have shown that eating in front of the television is a large factor in creating weight problems.
  • Do not use food to punish or reward children.
  • Monitor the school lunch program and encourage more packed lunches if the school lunch is not a good example.
  • Seek professional help with your pediatrician or nutritionist if you are having difficulty.
  • Love and appreciate your children no matter what their size.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acids

Despite all the concern about fat in our diet, the body does require fat to function. The problem is that most people are getting the wrong kinds of fats in their diet and are lacking the good fats in their diets. Babies should not be on a low-fat diet. Most of their fat should be from formula and breast milk. The total fat concentration of formulas and breast milk is around 45 to 50 percent of the total calories.

There are two types of fats:

  • The bad guys: Saturated fats are the type that can clog arteries. These fats are solid at room temperature and are found in meat, milk, and poultry. High intakes of these fats have a correlation with an increased incidence of heart disease and strokes in later life. Trans fats, often listed as hydrogenated oils, are found in margarines, vegetable shortening and many processed foods such as in peanut butter, cakes, cookies, and crackers. Although listed as an unsaturated fat in Nutrition Facts labels, they are part of the bad guys.
  • The good guys: Unsaturated fatty acids are liquid or soft at room temperature. Oils such as corn, fish, peanut, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower, and olive fall into this category. The fatty acids that are necessary for the body and cannot be made by the body are called essential fatty acids (EFA). Essential fatty acids are part of the good fats that have been researched and found to have numerous health benefits.
Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids help build nervous system tissue and help with the transmission of nerve impulses. They are also used by the body for the production of prostaglandins, hormone-like substances, that regulate various processes.

There are two major categories of EFA which are both considered polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). These are omega-3 (the major source is alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (the major source is linoleic acid). Omega-3 EFA are found in fresh oily fish (canning causes some loss of EFA) like herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna, and anchovy. Omega-3 EFA are also found in fish oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and walnut oil. Omega-6 oils include corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, borage oil, grape seed oil, and primrose oil. Good sources of both omega-3 and omega-6 are Great Northern beans, kidney beans, navy beans, soybeans, and soybean oil.

Getting an adequate amount of essential fatty acids may present a challenge. The Western diet has moved away from a fish diet, and most of the fats in processed foods are the bad fats. Also consider that if your child does not get adequate amounts of the basic vitamins and minerals, their body may not process the EFA that is consumed. In order for EFA to be used correctly, they need certain co-factors like vitamin A, C, E and magnesium, selenium, zinc, and copper.

Essential Fatty Acids

The primary problem is that the Western diet tends to be too high in omega-6 and too low in omega-3 fatty acid consumption. The typical American diet has a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of around 15 to 1. Diets with a ratio of about 4 to 1 have been shown to be healthier in research studies. One important study, known as the Lyon Diet Heart Study, looked at heart attack survivors.

Three different diets were assigned: a traditional heart diet, the “prudent” heart diet (recommended by the American Heart Association) and a modified version of the Crete diet. This last diet group received a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of 4 to 1.

Two years into the study, the study was stopped because survival rates of the Crete diet were so significant compared to the other two diet groups. There was a 76 percent lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular event with the Crete diet. Also laboratory animals who received a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids had more invasive and faster growing tumors when implanted with cancer cells. Psychological tests found these animals also suffered with more difficulty through mazes and had more random behaviors.

If everything is working correctly, EFA along with their co-factors will become metabolized into prostaglandins in the body. These are important in the function of the immune system. Too much saturated fat can block the conversion of EFA to the desirable prostaglandins.

A malfunctioning immune system can lead to illness, and it also plays a role in allergies and autoimmune diseases (diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, juvenile diabetes, and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis). EFA may improve allergies, asthma, and a possible role in attention deficit disorder.

Essential Fatty Acids

If you are breastfeeding, you should make sure you are including EFA in your diet. Diets that exclude fats and EFA can cause deficiency symptoms in the breastfed infant. Signs of an EFA deficiency can include dull hair, dry skin, dandruff, excessive thirst, and frequent urination. Symptoms in infants can also include poor weight gain and poor wound healing, in addition to the symptoms listed above.

Essential fatty acids are important in the production of myelin that is being laid down in the brain. Myelin sheaths cover the brain cells which are being laid down in the first couple years of a child’s life. Omega-3 sources should be included in the mother’s diet.

Research is now examining how important supplementation of formulas with different PUFA may be on infant development. Whether these PUFA affect attention control, problem-solving ability, IQ, and visual function is the emphasis of some of these studies. DHA does appear to be important for visual development in premature infants.

A study from Australia showed that supplementation of infant formulas with a dietary omega-3 did improve visual function to the level of those found in breastfed infants. Another study showed that supplementation of formula with PUFA from birth to four months of age resulted in higher problem-solving scores at 10 months of age.

Fiber Up!

High fiber diets

Most children today are not getting enough fiber in their diets. High fiber diets may reduce the risk of certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease and digestive disorders. In addition, fiber helps regulate the bowels and can help lower cholesterol. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are all good fiber sources. High fiber diets tend to be lower in fat and have also been found to curb overeating.

To calculate your child’s fiber needs:

add your child’s age + 5 = fiber requirement

(e.g. for an 8-year-old, daily fiber intake should be 8 + 5 = 13 grams of fiber a day).

Adults and teens should consume at least 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day.

Here are some tips for finding higher fiber foods:

  • In breads and cereals, look for whole grain and whole wheat listed as the first ingredient.
  • Find cereals with whole grains and at least 4-5 grams of fiber per serving. Some brands include: Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Wheaties, Toasty-O’s, Grape Nuts, Raisin Bran, wheatena, oatmeal and oat bran. Mix healthier cereals with your child’s less healthy cereals to get some benefits of added fiber.
  • Eat brown rice instead of white.
  • Find whole wheat pasta, amaranth pasta or quinoa pasta (the last two are available at health food stores).
  • Add fiber to meals by adding kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, lima beans. Add them to salads; soups; main dishes like burritos or tacos or chili; mash and mix in with meatloaf and burgers.
  • Add wheat bran or Fiproflax (available at most health food stores) to casseroles, meat loaf, baked goods, pancakes, and cereal.
  • Add All-Bran cereal to muffin recipes.
  • Drink plenty of fluids when you are eating fiber. This will help offset the gas, cramping and bloating that may occur.
  • Raw fruits and vegetables with the peels on have more fiber than cooked or canned.
  • Dried fruits are good fiber sources, especially figs, apricots and dates.
  • Discover other whole grains and find ways to cook them. Whole grains are getting easier to find these days. Look for them at your health foods stores. May stores have bins of raw grains where you can buy a small quantity. Some grains to try: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, kamut, millet, oats and quinoa.
High fiber diets
Food SourceServing SizeGrams of Dietary Fiber
Peas1/2 cup9
Beans, baked1/2 cup7
Chili with beans1 cup7
Almonds2 oz.7
Broccoli, cooked3/4 cup7
Peanuts, dry roast2 oz.7
Peanut butter2 TBS2
Whole wheat bread2 slices4
Corn1/2 cup3
Popcorn, popped2 cups2
Potato, baked, no skin1 medium2
Carrot, raw1 medium3
Strawberries1/2 cup2
Pear1 medium4
Banana1 large3
Blueberries1/2 cup1.5
Apple1 medium3
Apricots5 dried halves1.5
Kiwi1 large3
Applesauce1/2 cup1

Obesity Trends

Obesity Trends

The public health alarm has sounded and most people are well aware of the increase in overweight children in the U.S. The questions we are grappling with – why is this trend occurring and what does it mean for the future of our children?

Answering the first part of this question could be stated very simply – too many calories and too little activity, but in reality it is more complex. The media marketing food and sedentary activities to our children, cheap processed food choices, the ease of fast food for stressed out parents, schools offering sodas and candies, communities that make driving necessary and walking almost impossible, and the list could go on and on.

But who is ultimately responsible for the problem?

In many cases, we need to take a good look at the family. It is not the overweight 6-year-old who is doing the grocery shopping or running to the local drive-thru to pick up dinner. Parents need to take the ultimate responsibility and this can be taken in many ways despite the challenges. Parents are still in control and they can set limits. For example, examine what foods are brought into the house (do the parents understand how to read a nutrition label?), set limits on media (does a child need a TV in their own bedroom?), decide what types of restaurants are frequented (there are better choices out there), and get involved with the schools (school boards need to hear from parents voicing concerns about food choices in the schools).  

Obesity Trends

The problems for the future of our children is not about the cosmetics of looking skinny, but more about the health impact and risks for diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. The concern with diabetes is that overweight children are being struck with a disease that was considered to be a grown-up disease for old people.

As waistlines of our children continue to expand, their lifespan will be shortened and dollars spent on healthcare in treating their diseases will skyrocket. Is this the future we wish for our children?  We as parents can not only take responsibility for what occurs in our homes, but should be out there advocating with the schools, restaurants, food industry, businesses and our government to ask them to support us to keep our kids healthy.  No one wants to be blamed for the childhood obesity epidemic, but if everyone claims they are not to blame and chooses to do nothing, well-needed changes will not happen.