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Reasons why you must junk that junk food from your kid's plate

A pediatrician draws up a list of health concerns that kids on a diet high on processed foods can suffer from

Processed foods and fast foods have unhealthy dose of fats and sugars, which can disrupt a child's body’s metabolic processes
Processed foods and fast foods have unhealthy dose of fats and sugars, which can disrupt a child's body’s metabolic processes (Olek Sandr)

In recent years, the food industry has witnessed a significant transformation with the widespread availability of fast food and processed snacks that cater to the needs of busy families seeking quick and delicious meal options. This dietary shift, however, has also brought forth a concerning surge in health complications among kids especially childhood obesity. The impact of fast food and processed snacks on children's health is an ever-growing concern, as these food choices often pack a high-calorie punch, along with unhealthy fats, excessive sugar, and sodium.

To safeguard the well-being of our children, it is crucial to instill healthier eating habits among them from an early age. Listed here is a list of health concerns associated with the consumption of processed foods that can significantly affect a child's overall health:

Childhood obesity: One of the most significant consequences of fast food is the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity. These foods are typically calorie-dense and lack essential nutrients, leading to overeating and weight gain in children. Studies have shown that kids who consistently eat fast food are bound to be overweight or obese compared with those who have a balanced diet. The excessive presence of unhealthy fats and sugars in these foods can disrupt the body’s metabolic processes, making it difficult for children to maintain a healthy weight.

Also read: Why and how you can reduce your little one's love for sugary treats

Poor nutritional quality: Fast food and processed snacks contain low levels of fundamental nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Instead, they are laden with unhealthy additives and preservatives that prolong shelf life. The excessive consumption of such foods can result in nutrient deficiencies, affecting children’s growth and development. Moreover, poor nutrition during childhood can have long-term effects on overall health and increase the risk of chronic diseases later in life.

Risk of type 2 diabetes: Processed snacks carry a significant risk of type 2 diabetes for children. The elevated sugar content in these food choices can lead to insulin resistance, making children more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes. Regular consumption of sugary beverages and snacks causes rapid spikes in glucose levels, putting strain on the body's insulin production. As time passes, this can pave the way for the onset of diabetes and other associated health complications.

Risk of cardiovascular diseases: Junk food has gained notoriety for the alarming levels of unhealthy fats and sodium it contains. Consuming foods with these harmful ingredients can lead to elevated cholesterol levels and hypertension. As a result, the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, is heightened as they transition into adulthood.

Impact on mental health: While the connection between diet and mental health is complicated, a few examinations have connected an eating routine high in fast food and processed snacks to an increased risk of children developing mental health issues. The unnecessary utilisation of sugar and fatty food varieties is related to an elevated risk of depression and anxiety in young individuals. Moreover, poor dietary choices can lead to a lack of focus, concentration, and cognitive performance, hindering academic achievement and overall cognitive development.

Social and behavioural implications: Marketing strategies used by the fast-food industry target children, creating a culture where these foods are seen as desirable and fun. This, in turn, can lead to peer pressure and a preference for unhealthy eating habits among children that can lead to addictive eating patterns, making it challenging for children to adopt healthier alternatives.

Also read: The tangled link between obesity and mental health

How to get your kid to eat healthy
Eating habits formed during childhood can cast a long shadow, potentially setting the stage for a lifetime of health issues. It is vital to address these dietary concerns early on to ensure a healthier future for our children. If you are a parent, here are a few tips on how you can get your little ones to eat healthy:

Dine together: Aim to share a meal at least once a day with your child, focusing on providing nourishing sustenance. Incorporate a variety of in-season vegetables and fruits to create a vibrant and appealing spread that stimulates both appetite and visual interest.

Invite your kid to prepare a meal: Kids love the food they have helped to make. According to their age, invite your kids into the kitchen to help like washing vegetables, mixing ingredients, or assembling simple utensils. This participation can spark their interest in healthy foods.

Make a variety of dishes: Don't force a specific healthy food on your children. Instead, offer them a different variety of healthy dishes. It empowers them and gives them a sense of control over their food. Include a mix of colourful fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains in their diet.

Instill nutritional knowledge: Teach your kids about the importance of all kinds of food and their nutritional values. in an easy, understandable way, explain to them why healthy food is very essential for the energy and growth of their bodies.

Get them to garden or grow herbs: If possible, involve your child in gardening. Growing their own fruits, vegetables, or herbs can spark curiosity and excitement about trying the foods they nurture. Even growing herbs on a windowsill can make cooking more interactive and engaging.

By prioritizing a well-balanced diet and encouraging healthier food choices, we hold the key to safeguarding the well-being of the younger generation. 

Dr. YG Suvarna is consultant neonatologist & pediatrician at Rosewalk Healthcare, Delhi

Also read: The life-enhancing power of whole food, plant-based diet


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