As a pediatrician, I have watched the number of children with diet-related illnesses increase every year since I started practice. There are now days when I am overwhelmed and discouraged by the number of children whose health is diminished by a poor diet. This feeling of helplessness is why I started my website, doctoryum.com. It is also the reason I have made nutrition a passion and priority within my own family.
Consider a typical morning at my office and the types of patients I see:
- A teenage girl has a Body Mass Index that puts her well above the “obese” range. In addition to facial hair and irregular periods, her blood work indicates she is in the early stages of diabetes. Her symptoms and physical exam suggest PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). Without losing weight, she will certainly develop diabetes, and she may eventually struggle with infertility if she chooses to have children.
- A 3 year-old boy has an elevated Body Mass Index. His parents feed him mostly bland, overly processed food, and he drinks sugary beverages most of the day. His mother has trouble disciplining him, and says that he is so heavy that she can’t carry him to his “time-out” spot. His weight is equivalent to that of a 7 year-old child.
- A first grade girl suffers worsening chronic constipation as her body mass index climbs well beyond the “obese” range. She eats very little fresh fruits and vegetables while most of her diet is composed of processed, high-fat, and high-calorie food. Her chronic constipation has lead to incomplete emptying of her bladder. Today she comes to the office for her third urinary tract infection.
- A third grade boy suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His mother requests that I increase his ADHD medication because he can’t seem to concentrate. He has gained 8 pounds in the past 5 months and shows physical findings of “pre-diabetes.” He drinks artificially-flavored, sweetened beverages with red dye all day. Most of his food consists of overly processed microwave dinners that he eats well into the night. His mother says he will not eat anything else but junk food.
- A 12 year-old boy is active in sports and is at least 60 pounds overweight. He has a big appetite and loves junk food. During a routine sports physical, he complains of knee pain. His blood pressure is borderline high, and his insulin is at the upper limit of normal. He has a family history of both diabetes and high blood pressure, and despite counseling his weight continues to climb.
Day after day, I see parents who fail to see the connection between poor nutrition and poor health. Consider that half of the kids I see will die of diet-related illness (e.g. heart disease, stroke, diabetes, etc.). For the first time in the history of our nation, children’s lifespans will be shorter than that of their parents. I watch uninformed families fret over which model of expensive car seat they should buy while their kids sit next to them devouring unhealthy processed food. I want to say, “If you REALLY want to protect your child, then take the red soda and cheese puffs out of their mouth, and teach them to drink water and eat fruits and vegetables!!”
When it comes to feeding our children healthy food, we face so many adversities. Marketing of unhealthy food targeted at children is a multi-million dollar industry. Government food subsidies result in the most unhealthy food being the least expensive food. As our lives become increasingly more hectic, convenience foods become more available. As a parent, I know how easy it is to swim with the stream and buy what’s cheap, neatly packaged, easy, and “kid-friendly.” However, I see where this stream is going in our country, and it’s headed towards a waterfall of diabetes, high blood pressure, and shortened lifespans. As a pediatrician, my job is to ensure that children have longer lifespans, and as a result I have decided that I will swim, no matter how hard, AGAINST the stream.
I will teach my kids to love food that is good for you, no matter how many times they might spit out my brussel sprouts. I know that their tastes will change if I am persistent. I will teach them to love food by taking them apple picking when I really need a haircut. A love of good food means nourishment for their bodies. I will plant a garden with them, even though it is easier to buy from the grocery store. I know that when they grow their own food they will appreciate it more. I will make that extra trip to the farmers market because it teaches my kids that local farmers are important, and that the produce they grow is simply delicious. I will pack their lunches and spend the time to cut up a few extra veggies because I love them. I don’t want my children to be the next health statistic. As a professional, I see the statistics every day, and I want something better for them.