Food for Thought

How your children’s nutrition and exercise habits will impact them 25 years from now.

You may have heard about the reality television show Honey, We’re Killing the Kids. The premise of the show is to shock parents into recognizing how their children’s unhealthy lifestyle, such as their excess of junk food and lack of exercise, will eventually catch up with them. Using computer technology, the show fast forwards through the child’s life to present a picture of how the child will look if the unhealthy lifestyle continues.

This reality TV show depicts the reality for many modern parents, who unknowingly contribute to their children’s future health problems by allowing their kids to engage in unhealthy eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Though most parents lack the computer technology to fast forward 25 years, there are certain things every parent should know to ensure a healthier future for their children.

The Basics: Out with the Processed Foods, In with the Fruits and Vegetables

Parents are all too familiar with the hardship of instilling a healthy lifestyle in children. The omnipresence of high-calorie, nutrient-deficient processed foods constantly challenges parents to keep such unhealthy foods out of their children’s diets.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 64 percent of all disease in the world would be wiped out if everyone made good lifestyle choices. In particular, the WHO attributes 31 percent of heart disease cases, 19 percent of strokes and 11 percent of gastrointestinal cancers to a low fruit and vegetable intake. Therefore, it’s crucial that we encourage greater fruit and vegetable consumption in our children’s daily meals— before it’s too late.

Simply put, today’s kids need to eat far more fruits and vegetables than they currently consume in order to help prevent health problems. Research shows how plant food nutrients work to protect our DNA from being damaged and setting off a chain of events that could lead to cancer. Research has proven how antioxidants help to protect our cardiovascular system to aid in staving off heart disease. Further, research informs how the anti-inflammatory effect of phytonutrients protects against chronic diseases.

The 21st century has brought us much knowledge about how food nutrients can have a positive effect on our health. We have discovered that lycopene, found mainly in tomato products, has been linked to a dramatic decrease in prostate and breast cancer. Resveratrol, found in the skin from dark grapes and in smaller amounts in nuts, decreases the growth of cancer cells, decreases heart disease risk, may increase longevity, and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Quercetin, found in apples, green tea, berries, red grapes and onions, fends off free radicals and reduces inflammation— a major cause of chronic disease. Lutein and zeaxanthin, found in green leafy vegetables like spinach, collard greens and kale, as well as many other yellow or green fruits and vegetables, protect eyes against sun damage and age-related sight degeneration. The list goes on to reveal the seemingly endless benefits of phytonutrients, also known as plant nutrients. And each day we discover additional benefits to eating well.

Exercise: How Today’s More Sedentary Lifestyle Causes More Harm Than You Think

The World Health Organization attributes 22 percent of heart disease, 15 percent of diabetes cases and 15 percent of breast, colon and rectal cancers to lack of physical activity. Now combine lack of physical activity with lack of fruit and vegetable intake, and we have a recipe for a future health disaster for our children as we move into the next quarter century.

The recommended amount of physical activity for children is between 30-60 minutes on most days of the week. As many parents know, aerobic exercise has a list of benefits, including maintaining cardiac health, lowering blood pressure, helping to maintain a good weight, decreasing diabetes risk, boosting energy, and improving sleep and school work.

Specifically, resistance training improves metabolism and bone density in children, reducing the risk for osteoporosis, and it increases strength and muscle mass in post-pubertal children. People who are physically fit also live longer than their sedentary counterparts, have a decreased risk for mental impairment as they age and have stronger immune systems.

Children must be taught to exercise at home and on a regular basis. Parents simply cannot rely on sports team activities to teach their children the skills needed to nurture healthy exercise habits. Children need to be taught the joys and benefits of daily exercise. Make exercise a routine part of children’s lives, so staying active feels natural and important now and for years to come.

Learn From the Past— and Consider the Future

Walk into any physical rehabilitation facility and you will see people who have suffered physical loss from strokes, fractures, osteoporosis, heart attacks and the devastating consequences of diabetes. Watching these people struggle with their health should motivate everyone to adopt an active lifestyle. After all, 64 percent of the people suffering from these chronic diseases did not make a healthy lifestyle their top priority when they were kids and young adults.

If parents choose not to teach their children proper exercise habits and a healthy eating pattern, then they should imagine their child 25 years from now. With poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle, today’s children will be at greater risk for developing heart disease at a young age. Twenty five years from now, such ill-informed kids are far more likely to be obese and suffer from type II diabetes. The current estimate is that 90 percent of the population will be obese in the near future and suffer all of the consequences of chronic disease caused by obesity. Similarly, the rates of breast, prostate and colon cancer, among other illnesses, will skyrocket in the next quarter century years if parents don’t take action now. Dementia will strike at a younger age. Our children will also live a shorter life and suffer from more chronic diseases than in past generations.

Let’s make sure that 25 years from now our children don’t suffer the consequences of poor lifestyle choices and, instead, our children reap the benefits of good nutrition and exercise habits formed during the all-important childhood years.

Snack Time! Help your kids refuel and stay healthy with these snack ideas.

Nibbling on junk food after the school bell rings can destroy a child’s diet. Prevent your hungry child from reaching for the nearest bag of chips or cookies, by considering these healthier alternatives. Keep the following food items readily available when 3:15pm rolls around each and every afternoon:

  • Nuts and seeds are extremely healthy snacks. They are packed with protein and energy. Pumpkin seeds in particular are loaded with healthy fats, fiber and lots of minerals like magnesium, iron, copper, potassium, zinc and some calcium. Ounce for ounce, pumpkin seeds have almost as much protein as beef or chicken, with a lot more of the good fats. Pumpkin seeds even have some of the incredibly heart-healthy omega-three fatty acids.
  • Fruit with peanut butter or soy butter, cut-up vegetables with a low-fat dip such as a low-fat dressing or yogurt, air-popped popcorn, high fiber cereals and low-fat cheese sticks are all easy-to-prepare nutritious snacks that kids love. Keep bowls of fresh fruit, vegetables and low-fat dips in the refrigerator. This way, when kids walk in the door they can have a refreshing (and healthy) snack.
  • Smoothies are super snacks that kids can help make. Blend some of your child’s favorite fresh fruits with skim milk and lots of ice. Then, together you can both whip up a delicious drink that is as satisfying as it is healthy. For some extra variety— and to sate your child’s chocolate craving— try a chocolate peanut butter smoothie. Just combine ¾ of a cup of low-fat chocolate soy milk with ¾ of a tablespoon of natural peanut butter and ½ a cup of crushed ice. Mix the ingredients in a blender until well combined and thick, and you’ll have a healthy snack to replace the yearning for hot fudge sundaes.
  • Hummus served with wedges of whole wheat pita bread is a terrific nutritious treat for kids. Available in many different flavors, hummus, which is made from chickpeas, can also be served on vegetables and low-fat crackers. The savory spread is packed with nutritional value and good taste.