These days, childhood obesity is the hot topic when it comes to children’s health, and while it is certainly a great concern for our children and the future generations, there are many other important issues that we need to think about when it comes to the health of our children. Here are 5 things that you (probably) didn’t know about children’s health:
1. Children are born with a sweet tooth. Did you know that you’re born with an innate preference for sweet foods? The first infant food, breast milk, has the perfect balance of the macronutrients fat, protein, and carbohydrate, but it’s actually very sugary. I was amazed how sticky the milk was when I was breastfeeding my twins. And then we wonder why children prefer fruits as their first foods! Presumably the preference for sweets stems from evolution when hunters and gatherers were collecting food and would determine if something was safe or toxic based on the flavor. Those times are far behind us, as we have great access to all foods and for the most part we know what is safe to eat. Yet sweet foods are still the most desired. While there are physiological preferences for taste, environmental influences play a large role in the predilection for sweets. What children are offered to eat and what caregivers eat themselves make a difference in what children will eat and therefore want. That’s why it’s so important to offer children a variety of foods with various taste profiles.
2. Baby teeth may help treat type 1 diabetes. Banking cord blood when a baby is born has become quite popular to preserve stem cells for future therapeutic use. But what if you didn’t think about saving the cord blood at the time your child was born or what if you adopted a child? A new area of research has found that stem cells from baby teeth can be used in the same way. And when it comes to diabetes, these baby teeth may be just the cure. Melissa Herrmann Dierks, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator in North Carolina, said “Parents of children and adults with type 1 diabetes are working toward finding a cure. Banking the stem cells found in baby teeth and wisdom teeth may be helpful for future therapies." Researchers recently found that the stem cells from periodontal ligaments could produce insulin, the primary hormone that regulates carbohydrate metabolism. Next time the tooth fairy pays a visit to your child, you may want her to hold onto the teeth.
3. Childhood obesity is not just about food. Most people assume that if a child is overweight it must be what he’s eating or how much she’s consuming. If that were the case, we’d have a pretty simple solution to the obesity crisis we face. Weight is a complex issue that involves genetics, activity level, socioeconomic status, and environmental factors. Sure, teaching children about healthier foods and proper portion sizes is part of the solution, but there’s more to it than the food.
4. Constipation in kids is more common than you think. When I was pregnant, people warned me about all the poopy diapers I would be changing (times two with twins!). And while it’s true that I have to change a lot of diapers, it’s important to know the signs and solutions for constipation. Constipation in children often occurs when a child is fearful of having pain related to the bowel movement (for example, when a baby has diaper rash she may be scared to poop), when they are stressed about potty training, if they are embarrassed to go in a public restroom, or even if they don’t want to interrupt playtime. Of course the backup can also be the result of a low-fiber diet and sometimes it’s even related to medications. If your child is constipated, you may want to try a couple of these simple fixes:
Increase fiber in your child’s diet. Add beans, fruit with skin like apples and pears, and fibrous vegetables like broccoli. Start slowly though – a little bit of fiber in a child can go a long way!
Make sure she’s drinking enough water. Dehydration can worsen constipation, so be sure children drink water throughout the day.
Give him enough time to make a BM. Don’t rush the process. Encourage your child to sit on the toilet for five to ten minutes within 30 minutes of each meal. And as soon as he says he has to go, take him to the bathroom!
Offer rewards. Sometimes it helps to reward your child’s efforts even if there are no results. Try something not related to food like stickers or a game that he can play while on the toilet.
5. Food allergies in kids are more common than you think. One out of every 13 children has a food allergy – that’s approximately two kids per classroom. The most common allergies are peanuts, milk, and shellfish. Allergies to food go beyond rash and hives. Almost half of food allergies result in severe reactions, including trouble breathing, throat closing, and drop in blood pressure. These are life-threatening reactions. Even if your child doesn’t have an allergy, be sure to know about the children who are under your care for play dates, birthday parties, and other activities.
Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the founder of Nutritioulicious, a nutrition counseling and consulting practice in New York. Jessica has extensive experience as a nutrition writer, editor, and speaker. She is the co-author of We Can Cook:Introduce Your Child to the Joy of Cooking with 75 Simple Recipes and Activities (Barron’s 2011). Jessica also consults for food and beverage companies including The Coca-Cola Company, Frito-Lay, the Corn Refiner’s Association, and Avocados from Mexico. Additional services she provides including recipe analysis and recipe development and makeovers. Connect with Jessica via Twitter @JLevinsonRD and on Facebook.