Rickets is traditionally defined as a nutritional deficiency disease, a childhood affliction caused by lack of vitamin D. In fact, it could also be defined as a sunshine deficiency disease. It once was common among poor children living in 19th century England who had to spend long days working in factories and coal mines at a very young age. Child labor in factories and mines is gone, but rickets is making a comeback for other reasons.
As a Registered Dietitian and mother, one of my passions is cooking with my kids. Even before I had my own children, I often spoke to parents, teachers, and caregivers about the importance of bringing children into the kitchen and getting them involved in different steps of meal preparation. The benefits of including children in handling food are numerous.
That children who are exposed to the hardships of poverty suffer many disadvantages is of no surprise. But now a recent study found that lack of financial security, especially when it involves hunger and nutritional deprivation, can lead to stunted brain growth, making it harder to ever develop mental skills most of us take for granted.
There is clear evidence of the impact nutrition has on the potential development of Alzheimer’s disease and other late-life cognitive disorders. However, the damaging effects of unhealthy foods on the brain occur throughout life. Research now suggests that the typical American childhood diet – including burgers, pasta, pizza, chicken nuggets, French fries, sweets, and sodas – negatively affects school performance and learning.
Although eating fast food is not the sole cause of current high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and other diet-related diseases, it is likely a key contributor – especially among children. Studies suggest that children who eat more fast food tend to take in more calories and fewer nutrients than those who consume less or no fast food. Including more fast food in the diet may be a marker for less healthful habits overall. Families who eat a lot of fast food have fewer home-cooked meals and eat more often and less nutritiously when they’re on the go than those who eat less or no fast food.
We are quick to blame food for the childhood obesity problem. From fructose and soda to junk food and fast food, there are a plethora of guilty foods in a child’s world. But focusing on food as the sole culprit is a little bit short-sighted, and neglects the powerful role of feeding. Don’t get me wrong. I agree that many of today’s food products make it hard to avoid overeating. But don’t be misled by thinking it’s food’s fault alone. Many problems with childhood overweight begin during the high chair years.