A recent Washington Post article suggests that American’s junk food diet starts in toddlerhood. The journalist details a recent study by Victor Fulgoni analyzing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) from 2001 to 2012 for 4,406 children under the age of 2.
Diving into the data, he reveals even at one year of age, infants are eating their fair share of highly refined and processed foods. While the article goes into a bit of mind numbing detail, I consider the piece a decent start to the conversation, however the most critical issues aren’t revealed in the government data. In truth, there is much more to the story.
PREGNANCY INCUBATES BABIES IN A POTENT METABOLIC STEW
A children metabolic problems may stem from mom’s food choices and metabolic health even before she conceived. What and how she eats throughout pregnancy, and how she responds to the dynamic metabolic shifts during pregnancy influence everything. Babies born to mothers who gain weight quickly during pregnancy, gain excessive weight or too little weight during pregnancy may confer great risk of poor metabolic health on their children.
Mothers who develop gestational diabetes and or are already diabetic when they conceive pass on even greater risk. Babies born to mom with gestational diabetes are 8 times more likely to become diabetic themselves. The metabolic footprint is in place.
BREASTFEEDING: TOO MANY MOMS BAIL AFTER A FEW MONTHS
Next, too few mothers who intend to breastfeed aren’t breastfeeding a few months after birth. Too many workplaces, retail environments, and a distorted sense of privacy compromise a mother’s ability and ease to breastfeed.
It doesn’t help that the health care community has yet to offer adequate education and support. Too few hospitals engage in best practices to encourage breastfeeding. Under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act, The Office of Disease Prevention outlines specific recommendations to for hospitals to support breastfeeding education and support and insurance companies to cover costs. With most moms leaving the hospital after a day or two, that isn’t enough.
Most women need ongoing to support and resources through the critical first six weeks as baby and mother learn how to breastfeed and mom’s milk supply gets established. Breastfeeding may be natural, but it’s not instinctual nor automatic.
FIRST FOODS MATTER
Too often a baby’s first food is a highly processed, high glycemic refined starch. Infant cereal made with refined flour remains the overwhelming most popular first food. Too many new parents preferentially feed their baby infant cereals, usually following a health care provider’s advice or at least the advice from a free informational pamphlet offered by an infant food company.
Around the world parents feed babies a wide variety of mashed up whole foods, including sources of more fat and protein tham Americans consider feeding their infants. From avocado and nut butters, to eggs and all matter of animal protein, as well as whole grain gruel and porridge, an array of cultural food patterns around the globe encourage babies to eat better.
SNACK AND MEAL TIME IN AMERICA
By 8 months of age an infant’s affinity for all things starchy and sweet grows. Babies are offered a wide range of finger foods from Cheerios to pretzels, crackers, biscuits, goldfish, as well as the sweets, treats, juice and sweetened beverages. Too many busy parents and care givers forget that in between meal snacks provide an important opportunity contribute nutrient dense foods in the diet. This is no time to fill kids up with easy, portable and starchy snacks and sugary drinks to keep them quiet.
Mealtime often translates to kids filling up with pasta, rice and bread, with parents and other care givers often caving to what a child will eat instead of what they need. A mix of food choices should include adequate protein, produce and fat to balance the popular starches. Many parents benefit from honoring, Ellen Satter’s division of responsibility. The parent determines when and what to eat; the child determines how much.
EATING AWAY FROM HOME
Eating out presents its own challenges. Meals away from home stir just enough emotions to drive parents to capitulate. The stakes are raised and most parents and caregivers cave to their crying infants demands to minimize the glaring stares of other patrons.
Unfortunately most restaurants make this easy as they fill us up with too many carbs, even before the meal is served. Bread, tortilla chips, crackers or bread sticks appear on the table enticing hungry children and seducing parents yearning for a quieter dinner.
Interestingly, the more affordable Kids’ Meals may help, or may constitute a dietary disaster. Why don’t more restaurants offer smaller portions of more balanced meals available on the adults menu?
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
Lastly, most parents can’t tackle this alone. We live with abundance, and we feed babies and children as if they will always get away with eating whatever they want. Current health statistics tell most of us don’t.
Children are fed by a web of family and care providers, as well as an army of adults. In a culture of indulgence too many friends of the family, neighbors, and adults in the business community bribe and seduce children with a treat just to be nice or create a bond. What a set up.
As a parents, caregivers, and responsible members of the community we need to answer a hard question: Why feed children a diet that will predictably lead to insulin resistance, poor metabolic health and increase risk of every inflammatory disease at some point in their life?