Girl Planting seeds

Growing Healthy Kids

Family_outside_house_shutterstock_516646390By Deirdre Imus, February 14, 2019
We do so much as parents to protect our kids from harm throughout their lives. We hold their hands as they cross the street, tell them not to run near the edge of the pool, and strap a helmet on their head before each bike ride. The dangers out in the world are real and at times they feel innumerable, as if the next boogey monster is waiting just around the bend – or in some cases, inside your breakfast bowl.

Unfortunately, some of the gravest threats facing our kids are hiding in plain sight. According to a new statement released last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the use of colorings, flavorings and chemicals added to processed foods – as well as the toxic substances found in the food packaging materials – present real and growing threats to children’s health.

As the AAP notes, concerns regarding these food additives has increased in the past two decades as research has suggested a link between these unnatural ingredients and disruptions to the endocrine system. What’s more, the AAP suggests that government regulation over many food additives is “inadequate,” and that any so-called “protections” in place are insufficient and lack adequate data on the effects of these chemicals on human health.

Let that sink in.  There are more than 10,000 chemicals allowed to be added to food and food contact materials in this country, per the AAP, and many of the health effects are still unknown.

But we’re starting to learn, and not surprisingly, and the news isn’t great. Children’s small bodies are much more vulnerable to the effects of consuming toxic food additives, such as artificial colorings (which have been found to increase symptoms in kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or nitrates and nitrites (which can interfere with the thyroid and can also increase the risk of certain cancers). Artificial colorings are ubiquitous in food marketed toward kids, and nitrates/nitrites are found in a range of processed foods, but especially deli meats.

The unhealthy, Western diet – full of saturated fats and refined sugars – has made us all more prone to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. A 2015 study found it has also made our kids more likely to develop pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (P-IBD), an autoimmune condition that affects the intestines and can cause long-term health issues. This condition is more severe in kids than in adults, and can have lasting and profound health effects.

Other research is similarly uninspiring. A 2011 study suggested that a diet high in fats, sugars and processed foods in early childhood may lower IQ, while a diet full of vitamins and nutrients would have the opposite effect.  The Center for Food Safety highlights on its website research that indicates eating genetically engineered foods can cause allergic reactions; antibiotic resistance; immuno-suppression; and cancer.

Beyond the food itself, the packaging poses a real risk to our kids too. Many plastic containers and cans contain bisphenol-A, which can mimic the hormone estrogen and interfere with puberty and fertility, according to the new AAP policy statement. Bisphenols can also increase body fat, and causes changes to the immune and nervous systems. Phthalates are another example of a toxin not found in the food itself, but present in things that touch processed foods. These also mimic hormones, and can contribute to the risk of obesity and heart disease.

If all these reasons aren’t enough to start paying more attention to what you feed your kids, consider that a 2017 analysis found that children who eat healthfully are more likely to be happy – and those that are happy are more likely to eat healthfully! 

These small, daily decisions really do matter, even if they’re difficult to quantify.  Your kids may not thank you for it now (or ever!), but they’ll benefit from your fastidiousness in numerous ways, over and over again.

Be proactive about your children’s food – both what’s inside it, and what it’s inside of. 

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