In today’s dog eat dog, running behind and never catch-up world, our children suffer the most because we do not have time to cook, let alone cook a healthy meal. More and more kids nowadays are eating fast food and we, their parents, are not always giving them the healthy food choices that are now available. A 2016 study found that 91% of parents had fed their children fast food, up from 79% in 2010. The same study also showed that although nearly all parents responded positively to healthier options for their kids, only about half of them were giving them a healthier option in their kids meal.
Risks of Fast Food
Obesity is just one of many health issues for which children will be at risk with the more frequent consumption of fast food. Fast food has mostly empty calories and no nutritional value, leaving the body hungry for vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients necessary for a growing child. On top of that, fast food is loaded with more fat, sugar and sodium than children need, and eating this kind of unhealthy food can have negative health consequences over time, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues.
When the norm for children is to eat fast food about 2-3 times a week, they run the risk of rhinitis, asthma and eczema, and, later as teens, acne. And that’s not from fats, but the empty calories and white flour products. The risk for asthma is about 25% for younger children and goes up to 40% for teenagers.
If a child is eating fast food 4-6 times a week on a regular basis, the risk for memory and concentration issues increases. Research suggests that the high saturated fats found in fast food is what may negatively impact brain function and memory, including memory speed and flexibility and prospective memory (remembering to do something). This will lead to problems at school with learning and retention and, of course later in life, on the job.
The 2016 study also mentioned that over one third of the parents who fed their children fast food, gave them regular size meals, instead of the kids meals. Each meal is about 1500 calories – nearly the entire caloric allowance for an adult for the day!
Other health issues that eating fast food brings on (and not only to children, but adults as well) include constipation, bloating and tooth decay. And excess sodium in the food can lead to high cholesterol, heart disease, including arrhythmia, stroke and heart attacks later in life. Also the risk of kidney stones and kidney disease.
Because fast food has all those empty calories, it can keep a child from participating in extracurricular activities. Fast food does not provide adequate nutrients for physical activity. Nutrients you would get from eating fresh fruit and vegetables. And the lack of physical activity not only keeps children out of peer groups but also impairs physical and mental health. Lack of physical activity contributes to obesity and children will also suffer from depression, low body image and low self-esteem.
Since Ray Kroc first marketed the golden arches and McDonald’s, our food preferences and lifestyles have changed and with each successive generation, it has gotten worse. We have become a society of single parent and dual parent/dual income households, in which we are more inclined to take the easy way out for dinner choices. It used to be that going to get a hamburger at the local diner was a reserved for the weekend. Nowadays, it’s Monday through Friday at the local fast food place, because there’s no time to cook, and weekends are now reserved for the special home-cooked family dinner, if at all.
A generation ago, more than three-quarters of the money spent on food was spent on ingredients to cook at home. Today more than half of money spent on food is spent on food eaten outside the home. Government surveys from 1977-78, 1988-91 and 1994-96 reveal the alarming trend: more and more Americans eat fast food and junk food with each subsequent survey. This is what has lead us to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and our children are the ones that are suffering the most.
And Another Thing
If the film ‘Super-Size Me’ didn’t scare us, it should have. Granted, we don’t normally eat fast food for breakfast, lunch and dinner like Morgan Spurlock did for 30 days, but it brings the unhealthiness of fast food to light. After 3 weeks, even his doctors were begging him to quit, because he was already showing signs of heart related problems along with severe malnutrition. At the end of his month-long experiment, he had gained 24 lb, a 13% body mass increase, increased his cholesterol to 230 mg/dL, and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver. (It took him 14 months to regain his health on a vegan diet.)
We, thankfully, do not eat like that on a regular basis, but even eating just 3-4 times a week can have serious health consequences to us adults. Our children deserve so much better from us. And yet, we keep doing it. We are, quite literally, killing our children. Slowly, painfully, with obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Our children learn from us, not necessarily what we say, but what we do. Our actions speak volumes and our children are keen observers. If we parents change how we eat, or at least what we eat when we go out, and give our children the healthy options available (though they are hardly advertised well), they will learn to eat healthy and carry that over into adulthood and their own children. Healthy options can include ordering the fruit instead of fries or water instead of soda for that hamburger meal, or it could be eating at a healthier restaurant. Our jobs, our lifestyles mostly preclude our ability to eat a sit-down home-cooked meal all the time, but when we can, eating healthy should not be the exception, but the rule.
Does this mean no more milkshakes? No fries? No hamburgers? All that greasy goodness, dripping with cheesy emptiness? No, it means relegate it to the occasional family outing (Read: monthly or biweekly). Because we can’t say never. Fast food should be a treat. A quick bite between baseball practice and piano recital, when too much is going on and there’s not enough hours in the day. And when you do go, add the healthy alternatives, rather than greasy french fries or calorie rich milkshakes. Make the healthy choice for your kids, so they can, in the immortal words of Spock, live long and prosper.