Adult Diseases in Children - A Frightening Trend
Updated: Aug 7
During my three decades of practice, I witnessed the evolution of a frightening trend - the appearance of adult diseases in children never before seen. These are diseases that typically did not present until the fourth, fifth, or sixth decade of life; we began seeing them in the first two decades. Why is this frightening? If these diseases develop in childhood, they will already have complications and more severe disease by adulthood.
An obese child is at high risk for obesity as an adult, multiple health problems and a shortened lifespan.
What are the conditions I refer to?
Type 2 diabetes
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Hypercholesterolemia and lipid abnormalities
Not only should children not develop these diseases, but
THEY ARE PREVENTABLE!
Why is this happening? What has caused this change?
Honestly, there are numerous factors. As family life changed with more activities, two working parents, and more accessible and convenient food on the go, changes evolved gradually.
It started in the 1970s, with the low-fat craze, when it was thought that dietary fat caused heart disease. During that time, more low-fat and fat-free foods were created, which were believed to be good. However, the fat in these foods had to be replaced by something. When fat is removed, the food is not as tasty or palatable.
What replaced fat???
Sugar sweetened the food so that the fat was not missed. This was the start of more and more added sugar to processed foods. This and an increase in soda and sugary beverage intake led to a significant increase in sugar consumption. Ironically, we later learned that sugar, and saturated fats, contribute to heart disease. Excess sugar is converted to triglycerides in the liver leading to cardiovascular disease.
LOW FAT and FAT-FREE ITEMS BECAME ITEMS WITH ADDED SUGAR!
Over time, increases in sugar consumption and artificial sweeteners created cravings for more sugar. This pattern, and the abundance of unhealthy, ultra- processed foods and fast foods high in fat and sugar, led to more rapid weight gain in all ages. In fact, a child today, on average, weighs about eleven pounds more than a child in the 1970s.
Increased weight, high sugar, fat, and salt consumption are all culprits. Convenient meals, whether drive-thru, microwave or frozen dinners, and eating much more processed foods, filled us with poor quality nutrition and packed on the pounds.
The food and beverage industry has done a remarkable job at marketing junk to our kids. Look at all the breakfast cereals marketed to children - they are loaded with sugar. Consider the Coke/Pepsi wars. Think about the celebrities that are part of the appeal. Healthy foods are advertised less than 3% of the time compared to junk. These companies spend billions annually to brainwash our kids. It works. Studies show that children exposed to these ads crave foods they have never tasted!
The majority of foods marketed to kids are highly processed and full of unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt.
Unfortunately, there is no accountability or regard for children’s health. Parents have to be the ones to fight this by not putting money into the processed food industry’s pockets.
So what do we do and how do we change this trajectory?
We can and should demand better. We, the consumers, are the ones who will bring about change.
Changing this trend was one of my goals when I started this website. It begins with education and creating awareness to know what needs change and how to change it. Steps to take are not difficult or expensive. Breaking habits and creating new ones is not easy, but the payoff is tremendous - your child’s health!
I will outline steps to take, referring to numerous blog articles previously published for more detailed information. We could conceivably improve this trend in one generation by starting young and making these changes early. However, it is never too late to begin.
Improving eating habits is at the heart of these changes. You can start small with simple substitutions, such as buying whole grain bread instead of white, whole grains instead of refined, and brown rice instead of white rice. Check out a previous article full of helpful and healthy substitutions from 12/28/22, Healthy Substitutions for a Healthy New Year,
https://www.feedfuturehealth.com/post/healthy-substitutions-for-a-healthy-new-year . You will find many ways to make your diet more nutrient-dense.
Here are my Top Ten suggestions:
Know what you are buying by reading labels. Look for products with a short (5 or fewer) ingredient list. Better yet, buy items that don’t need a label - fresh produce. Shopping the perimeter of the store offers the most nutrient-dense foods. Avoid foods with added sugar and ingredients that you cannot pronounce (these are typically chemicals and additives).
We all like our sweets but, learn which are healthier, with lower sugar, with fiber, and made with fruit or vegetables. See the Sweet Tooth article from 8/10/22 https://www.feedfuturehealth.com/post/sweet-tooth for ideas, and search online for delicious recipes that make desserts from veggies. Eat more fruit as sweets and limit baked goods to a once-in-awhile treat.
Start your child’s day with a healthy, hearty breakfast with both protein and fiber. Take ten extra minutes in the morning to ensure a good start to their day. See The Problem with Breakfast post, 12/7/22, https://www.feedfuturehealth.com/post/the-problem-with-breakfast for many breakfast ideas.
Incorporate healthy fats into your dietary repertoire with plant-based cooking oils, like olive and avocado oils, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and avocado. See the post on Fats in the macronutrient section from 6/28/22, https://www.feedfuturehealth.com/post/macronutrients-1 .
Decrease consumption of refined grains with simple substitutions:
Brown rice instead of white rice
Whole wheat or whole grain bread and crackers rather than those made with white flour
Almond, whole wheat, or oat flour for baking
Whole wheat or vegetable pasta instead of regular pasta
Increase your variety of grains with quinoa, farro, barley, oats, buckwheat, and more
6. Eat seafood twice a week.
7. Strive for several plant-based meals weekly - substitute beans, lentils, chopped mushrooms, or tofu for meat.
8. Use more spices and less salt when cooking. Buy fresh, frozen, low-salt, or no-salt items.
9. Fill half of your child’s plate with fruit and vegetables.
10. Stop buying sodas, juices, dessert coffee drinks, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
These 10 steps will decrease sugar intake, increase fiber, improve the nutrient density of your family's diet and preserve everyone's health.