Not very long ago, we used to think that the dreaded diseases that struck adults – heart attack, stroke and cancer – where the inevitable fallout of aging. Today we know better. Many of these adult afflictions have their origins in wrong habits and lifestyle practices inculcated in children.
So, if we want our children to grow up into healthy adults, we have to get them off to a good start early in life. The basic maxims are spelled out in the three big E’s
- Eat Right
- Exercise regularly
- Eschew unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking in excess.
Heredity places some children at greater risk than others. This is why it’s important to alert your pediatrician to your family’s medical history. But early testing and monitoring, combined with proper preventive measures, can help keep even at-risk children from falling victim to chronic diseases later in life. Here it is, then: your child’s prescription for a healthy life.
If your child is over weight, he runs a much greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and a host of other ills. But the consequences of obesity aren’t just physical. Overweight children risk rejection by peer and, at times, by teachers and other authority figures. They may be viewed as weak and lacking in self control and, in part because of their social problems, may not achieve their full potential in school. Furthermore, because and overweight child is less likely to participate in games and sports, he may fill be hind his peers in the development of motor skills, which in turn, perpetuates the cycle of obesity.
Although there’s definitely a hereditary component to obesity (if you and your family are over weight, your child is more likely to follow suite than if you don’t have that history), the fact remains that obesity is moms caused by overeating and lack of activity. These are two aspects of your child’s behavior you can do something about to help him lose weight now and to thwart the possibility of his having to be on and off diets for the rest of his live.
Recommendations: If you think your child is overweight, discuss the problem with the pediatrician. Never put a very young child on diet yourself, you may harm his growth by excluding necessary foods. There’s a small chance that a chemical imbalance or other physical condition may be at fault.
If, as it more likely, the problem is a result of overeating, have your pediatrician recommend an eating plan. Then take steps to normalize your child’s eating habits, which may mean making changes i9n the whole family’s eating patterns. Don’t nag your child about weight problem or make him feel as if he is being punished for being overweight. Here are some positive steps to take:
- Become aware of what and when your child eats. If he’s snacking on too much high calorie, high fat foods, keep a variety of more nutritious snacks on hand. If he tends to eat junk food while watching television, limit TV watching time and suggest that he play outdoors.
- Try to determine whether there are underlying psychological reasons for your child’s overeating (consulting with a professional may help). Is your child using food comfort? Does he eat when he’s anxious or upset? You may have to help ways to express his needs and feelings.
- Prepare meals that aren’t heavy on fried foods, swimming in cream souses or topped by rich desserts.
High Blood Pressure
People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop diseases of the heart and blood vessels and high blood pressure is a leading cause of death. Although there is genetic factor involved – high blood pressure tend to run in families – stress and obesity are two other risk factors that you can control to reduce your child’s chances of developing this serious condition.
Your pediatrician should regularly check your child’s blood pressure starting at age four (younger, if there is a family history of high blood pressure). If your child does have high blood pressure, your doctor will probably take blood and urine samples to determine whether there’s a specific medical cause such as kidney problem. If there’s no apparent medical reason, he or she may suggest changes similar to those proposed for adults (diet, exercise, stress reduction)
Recommendations: Although some experts believe there is “no conclusive evidence” that high sodium in take causes high blood pressure, there is enough information suggesting a relationship between salt consumption and high blood pressure in adults to warrant prudence and moderation in childhood. It’s also important to realize that many adults, having acquired a taste for salty food early in life, suffer from bloating, water retention and weight gain. Salt intake for youngsters should be limited to no more than 5 grams daily (about 2½ teaspoons). Here are ways to cut back.
- Cook without salt and don’t bring the salt shaker to the dinner table.
- Season your food with other spices such as curry powder, garlic and onion.
- Read package labels and serve fewer salty foods and snacks.
- When eating out avoid dishes that feature high sodium flavor enhancers, such as soy sauce and monosodium glutamate (ajinomoto – a staple in Chinese cooking)
What your child eats today may come back to help or haunt him in adulthood. A diet high in cholesterol and saturated fat may make him susceptible to heart disease and stroke later in life.
The body needs a certain amount of cholesterol for cell production, but the amount manufactured by the liver is usually sufficient. Excess cholesterol from food, along with saturated fat, builds up in the arteries to form plaques. These plaques clog the blood vessels making it difficult for oxygen rich blood to reach vital organs.
There’s no question that atherosclerotic plaques start building in early childhood. To help prevent this buildup, you can make dietary changes that will help your child – and other family members – stay healthier now, while setting the stage for healthful eating in adulthood.
Recommendations: Many foods high in cholesterol are also good sources of protein and other nutrients that are important during your child’s growing years, so you won’t want to cut them out completely. Moreover, children – especially those under two years old – need some fat in order to grow. How can you safely keep your child’s cholesterol level in check? Here are some guidelines:
- Be sure that foods containing complex carbohydrates – grains, cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables – make up approximately 50 percent of your child’s diet.
- Keep fat consumption down to about 30 percent of his diet, with no more tan 10 percent in the form of saturated fats.
- He should get no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterols from the foods he eats (all foods from animals contain some cholesterol). Some vegetable oils like palm and coconut oil have a high content of saturated fats which are converted in the body to cholesterol.
- Be sure your child exercises regularly. And try to match his calorie in take with his calorie expenditure so he doesn’t become over weight.
- If your child is more than two years of age and you have a family history of high cholesterol and/or a history or premature heart attack, you should have your child cholesterol level tested. Children whose cholesterol count consistently exceeds 176 mg/dl require nutritional counseling plus dietary changes.
Constipation is a common problem in childhood. Some experts believe chronic constipation can lead to hemorrhoids and intestinal disorders such as diverticulitis, in adulthood.
The immediate problem can be relieved by adding fiber to the diet (more fresh fruits and vegetables and grains). Avoid castor oil and other purgatives as routine rituals for children. They can affect bowel tone, and lead to life long constipation. If these measures are not successful, consult your pediatrician, who may prescribe a mild laxative. However many children have problems for as much as several months after a bout of constipation, because of the fear and pain they experienced. Talking to your child will reassure him that he can attain regularity. Continue the regimen of fiber containing foods to avoid the risk of recurring constipation. Make sure your child gets enough opportunity for play your child gets enough opportunity for playful activity. In activity promotes constipation.
Many people believe cancer is like going bald – there’s not much you can do about it. But that belief is wrong. Though there is a tendency to inherit some forms of cancer, many are caused by the way we live: smoking (or exposure to second hand smoke), the time we spend I the sun and the food we eat. It’s never too early to instill the right cancer preventing life styles habits in your children.
Recommendations: It’s now clear that exposing your child to secondhand smoke is dangerous; secondhand smoke actually contains more of some cancer causing chemicals than smoke that’s inhaled directly, moreover, children whose parents smoke are hospitalized more frequently during their first year of life for bronchitis and pneumonia than children of non smoker. Quit smoking and guard your children from exposure to secondhand smoke from others.
A recent report from the National Research Council in the U.S. supports the theory that “what we eat during our lifetime strongly influences the possibility of developing certain types of cancer.” According to the American Cancer Society, diets low in fat, high in fiber, with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and cereal may reduce the chances of developing several forms of cancer. Here are ways to improve your child’s diet:
- Reduce the amount of fat in your family diet to lower the risk of developing breast thyroid and prostate cancer. A low fat diet also combats obesity and helps prevent heart disease and stroke.
- Serve your family lots of green and yellow vegetables, which contain substances called carotenoids, to lower the risk of developing lung cancer.
- Serve a minimum of five half cup serving of fresh vegetables and citrus fruits daily; the Vitamin A and C, selenium and fiber they contain can help prevent all types of cancers, especially colon and rectal.
- Be sure your child eats plenty of complex carbohydrates whole grains, beans and dried peas, fruits and vegetables. The fiber in them moves potentially harmful substances through the intestine quickly so they spend less time in the body.
Few of us escaped childhood without at least one cavity; most of us had many more. But with fluoride-based toothpastes today, plus major advances in dentistry, your kids have a good chance of staying cavity-free.
Avoid giving your child too many sticky foods like sweets, jams, cakes and toffees and make twice daily brushing a life habit. In addition, make sure your child has regular dental checkups, starting at year old.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which decreased bone mass leads to increased susceptibility to hip and wrist factures, poor posture and loss of height (because the vertebrae in the spine are weak). Although osteoporosis occurs mainly in women after age 45, there’s evidence that good diet and exercise habits, practiced from young age, may prevent the condition from developing in adulthood.
Good strong bones early in life set the foundation for later years. Children need to exercise and get the right nutrients for strong bones, rather than waiting until bones start weakening in adulthood.
Recommendations: Be sure your child gets plenty of calcium. Recent research from the U.S. Confirms that bone mineral health is better in children who consume 1000 milligram of calcium – the amount found in approximately three glasses of milk – than in those who get less calcium. Good sources include low-fat or skim milk (after age two), yogurt, cheeses (preferably from skim milk), fish with bones, pudding and custards. Do not give your child calcium tablets.
The same research also revels that physical activity affects bone health in children (and at any age). Regular weight bearing exercise – walking, skipping, doing cart wheel and running, for example – can help your child build strong bones and stay in shape.
Emotional stress can have a powerful effect on your child’s wellbeing, just as it does for adults. School phobia, peer pressure and family problems such as divorce are just a few of the factors that can cause your child to experience stress. How he copes with his feelings now can set the pattern for a lifetime.
By helping your child learn to reduce his anxiety level, you will be teaching him how to combat many of the potentially harmful effects of stress – high blood pressure, headache, backache later in life.
Personality traits that make adults susceptible to heart disease appear in children as young as nursery school age, say experts. These traits may include a low capacity for tolerating stress and frustration, a tendency to create internal anxiety (for example, excessive worry about performance in school) and an overblown sense of responsibility (a child who is too quick to take on family responsibilities such as caring for sibling or doing household chores).
But it’s important to distinguish between these traits and the kind of hard-driving behavior that comes from high motivation and joyful involvement in activities. How can you tell the difference? One key is whether your child feels compelled to work most of the time or whether he is willing to “hang out” and relax. Children must have some sense of childhood. This means creating a balance between work and play. Your child should also be flexible enough to “shift gears” from play time on weekends to school work on Monday morning. Too much rigidity – extreme fearfulness every Sunday night, for instance, may be a sigh that your child needs help.
Recommendations: Your child’s natural temperament to some extent determines how rigid or flexible he is, whether he’s persistent, stubborn, striving or easygoing. And though you can’t change every aspect of his behavior you can work with your child to help him allay anxiety and have more fun. Here are some suggestions:
- Encourage your child to express his fears, no matter how silly they may seem to him, rather than allowing them to churn him up inside.
- If he’s anxious about doing well in school, review the difficult skills or lessons with him in “practice sessions”, keeping the tone light.
- Encourage your child to play with friends, read and engage in other activities that provide pleasure for their down sake.
- Don’t turn piano lessons, dancing classes and the like into chores by insisting on heavy practice and achievement.
Set a good example by making play and relaxation a priority in your life. Let your child knows you value this time as much as time spent working.