In 2005 the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine asked the troubling question, "Why are we witnessing the forecast of a decline in life expectancy in the next generation in the face of being the most medicated society the world has ever seen?"1
Well, part of the answer lies in their question. We are the most heavily medicated society the world has ever seen! Every year there are over 2.2 million adverse drug reactions in the U.S., and 106,000 of those result in the patients' death.2 One person dies every 3-5 minutes of causes traceable to side effects of approved and properly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, which is almost five times the number of deaths caused by illicit drugs.3 Yet, incredibly, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently urged doctors to begin prescribing cholesterol-lowering statin drugs - now thought to be a possible cause of brain cell damage - to 8-YEAR OLD children!
So the methods of the ultra-conservative medical community ("ultra-conservative" meaning that they use only drugs and surgery as the primary methods of care, and shun "alternative" and "complementary" methods such as supplementation, acupuncture, chiropractic, etc) unfortunately have much to do with why children are not expected to live as long as their parents. In fact, iatrogenic disease, or death by medicine, is now considered to be the leading killer of Americans, taking more lives annually than heart disease or cancer.4 It is statistics like these that is causing a mammoth shift in the thinking of many open-minded medical practitioners.
The Childhood Obesity Factor
According to a 2004 report by the US Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in every 6 children are now considered "obese," and nearly 1 in 3 are classified as "overweight." The same report went on to say that the obesity rate in children age 6-11 has more than doubled since 1980, and it has tripled in children ages 12-19. Lack of exercise and horrific eating habits are to blame for this cataclysmic shift.
Being overweight is known to significantly increase the risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and dementia, and the probability of these maladies manifesting increases profoundly the earlier in life that a person experiences unfavorable shifts in body composition.
What We Can Do to Protect our Children
In consideration of the above statistics, it would seem prudent to endeavor to refrain from medicating our children at all except in times of emergencies or life-threatening conditions. Furthermore, efforts to govern our children's diets and encourage physically-active forms of recreation rather than the sedentary kinds (i.e. TV, video games, etc) could result in improvements in children's health that are so profound that on-going use of medications for many conditions may no longer be necessary.
A first step toward that end would be to pay attention to the glycemic index of the food our children are eating, especially as it relates to the first meal of the day.
A report in Pediatrics in 1999 demonstrated that "Voluntary energy intake after the high-GI meal was...81% greater than after the low-GI meal." In other words, kids tend to crave less sugar when they fill up on the right kinds of foods. However, "The rapid absorption of glucose after consumption of high-GI meals induces a sequence of hormonal and metabolic changes that promote excessive food intake in obese subjects." In other words, the more sugar you eat, the more sugar you crave. Sugar is indeed an addiction.
How to Kick the Sugar Addiction in Kids
Zig Ziglar, in his book and audio series entitled, Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World, emphasizes the importance of diet in children's behavior and development. In addressing the issue of the difficulty in getting kids to eat better, he tells the story of a man showing off his dog to a neighbor. The neighbor asked, "What do you feed him?", to which the owner of the dog replied, "Carrots." "Carrots!?", exclaimed the neighbor. "My dog would never eat carrots." The owner calmly replied, "My dog wouldn't either....for the first five days."
In other words, after five days of eating nothing, the dog was hungry enough to eat anything set before him. And Zig Ziglar's point was to take exactly the same approach with stubborn children.
While this may seem cruel to soft-hearted parents, Ziglar assures his listeners that children will not allow themselves to go hungry. They may turn up their noses the first several meals, but if the same plate that they originally rejected is set before them time and again with no other options in the cabinets, they WILL eventually hungrily devour anything set before them without any need for prodding or yelling. And if parents can themselves observe a healthy diet and remove temptations from the cupboards, then everyone wins, and children will reap the benefits. Eating habits, whether good or bad, will nearly always follow children into adulthood.
Medical Foods to the Rescue
In an effort to help parents address the monumentally important task of dietary modification in children, I recommend the use of the landmark medical food, Ultra Meal. Available in several flavors in both the powdered drink mix form and the form of a bar, Ultra Meal is designed especially for the needs of both overweight adults and children. It is a nutrient-dense, low-glycemic, good tasting supplement to the diet packed with micronutrients. It is a healthy alternative to snacks and desserts. It could even be used as a total meal replacement.
Several pilot trials and university studies show consistent improvement in body composition, cardiovascular markers, blood sugar, and metabolic rates among Ultra Meal users as compared to over-the-counter drink mixes or dietary modification alone. (Click here to access one of the studies.)
Any way you slice it, achieving weight loss takes effort, especially in children who may not be terribly motivated to give up their Cheerios and Pop-Tarts for breakfast. But it MUST be done if we truly care about the longterm health of our kids. Allowing them to eat whatever they want to their hearts desires so that they develop body composition, health, and behavorial consequences for which they are then medicated with toxic drugs is not, in the humble opinion of this blogger, responsible parenting. But policing their dietary habits, difficult as that may be, is a true demonstration of love because of the longterm health benefits for possibly generations to come.
1. N Engl J Medicine 2005; 352: March 17
2. Lazarou J, Pomeranz BH, Corey PN. Incidence of Adverse Drug Reactions in Hospitalized Patients: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. JAMA 1998 Apr 15;279(15). 1200-5.
3. Brennan TA, et al, Incidence of Adverse Events and Negligence in Hospitalized Patients, N Engl J Medicine 324(6); Feb 7, 1991: 370-376.
4. Dean C, Feldman M, Null G, Rasio D, Death by Medicine, Nutrition Institute of America, 2003-2004, nutritioninstituteofamerica.org.