The food that children eat has changed drastically over the years, but not entirely for the better. In today’s world where time is of essence and majority of parents work, speed and convenience have become necessities rather than luxuries.
Thus, it is convenient to buy potato chips, burgers, fried chicken, pizza, biscuits, chocolate, white bread, fizzy drinks or ready-made products for your child’s lunch.
I was sometime ago left in dismay by the lunch children studying at Green Hills Academy and Ecole Belge have. It made me wonder if these kids are really able to grasp a thing during their afternoon classes.
Simply watch parents and their children especially during weekends at fast food joints or the popular supermarkets of Simba and Nakumatt shelves, and you will see that this trend has become a real pastime. They intentionally or unintentionally go for foods with high fat, sugar and salt content.
Eaten in large quantities, these foods could easily cause obesity in your child. An obese child is at risk of contracting life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
According to research findings, children and youth who eat a lot of fast foods have a larger calorie intake and gain more weight.
Even if your child is not overweight, allowing him or her to eat large amounts of junk food reduces their likelihood of having a healthy balanced diet with vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and other nutrients.
Equally, since many of these foods contain a lot of salt, the child is at a high risk of getting high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Children are no longer taking their traditional ‘three meals a day’. Often, when a child is not feasting on fast food or takeaways, we are stuffing him or her with snacks and convenience foods at home.
True, some ready-made meals and convenience foods are of good nutritional quality and may not differ a lot from home-cooked food but for some; the nutritional quality is severely compromised and could eventually threaten the health of your child, especially when eaten in large quantities.
It is recommended that no more than 35 per cent of our total energy intake should come from fat. It should be from carbohydrates or protein. However, for some fast foods, more than half the energy comes in the form of fat and quite a high amount of salt. Some burgers contain meat that is 50 per cent fat.
Obesity can result from many factors, including lack of physical activity and genetic predisposition, but eating too much fatty or sugary food is a key factor. If you consume more food energy than your body expends, then the surplus will be stored as body fat.
Ultimately, the only certain way for children to avoid becoming overweight is to be physically active and not to over-eat. Sadly, many children do neither.
Obesity is bad news in many ways. Fat people are more likely to develop high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. Someone who is overweight in childhood is twice as likely to die of heart disease in adulthood.
Childhood obesity is also a cause of sleep disorders, psychological problems and diabetes in later life. Because today’s image-crazy society strongly condemns obesity, a child who is fat is often teased and cannot easily make friends. He or she thus develops a low self-esteem.
Obesity aside, another reason to worry is the high quantities of salt in most fast and processed foods which can lead to raised blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
The recommended maximum salt intake is two grams a day for children aged one to six years, and five grams a day for children between the ages of seven to 14.
Unfortunately, majority consume about twice that, with more than half of it coming from processed food.
Children who add salt to their food tend to have higher blood pressure.
Incidentally, you do not need to add salt to your food in order to consume too much of it (salt). Already, a large portion of it is hidden in everyday foods like breads and baked beans.