Oh, Poor Me, No Junk Food in my Childhood?

Girl eating watermelon

While growing up, food is what set me apart from my peers. Naturally, being the daughter of Dr. Fuhrman is going to result in some pretty unconventional school lunches and after school snacks. As a young child, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my friends were being packed ham sandwiches and chips and I was not. My parents only packed me healthy stuff, never processed foods, white bread sandwiches or Lunchables, those highly processed convenience foods that children thought (due to commercials) were as cool as winning a game of dodgeball. I did not try a McDonald’s French Fry until I was in the fourth grade. I felt like a rebel buying chocolate chip cookies in middle school, a thought process never occurring to my friends. 

During my childhood, I chose to ignore the health consequences of what I ate and was a pleasure seeking eater, as any little one has a right to be. I was allowed to have pizza at lunch on some Fridays and I was never denied Carvel ice cream cake at my friend’s birthday parties. I looked forward to those Fridays and any other time my mom would let me eat something she deemed “unhealthy”. My parents were not completely rigid; they just only had healthy foods at home. They did not make me feel guilty or punish us if we strayed. They understood that kids need some flexibility and are going to want to explore the food culture in our society. Yet, while I had some occasional treats, I still wished I was like the other kids. I wanted a box of Brownie cookies when my Brownie troop sold them and I wanted my mom to buy me Lucky Charms like my friend Alyssa’s mom bought them for her. Don’t get me wrong, I liked, and even loved, many of the foods that were provided for me at home. Yet, as a young child, acceptance and pleasure trump health any day of the week.   

Then everything changed. It began in the seventh grade and became an unstoppable force in eighth. Instead of being rebellious, I wanted to be the epitome of a healthful eater. The phrase, “You are what you eat,” finally kicked in, a pride in my unconventional eating habits blossomed, and I became an unstoppable walking nutrition encyclopedia. I went so far as to criticize my friends for their poor eating choices. “Are you really going to eat that donut?” I would proclaim, and then begin a diatribe on the dangers of consuming partially hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids. Understandably, my friends were annoyed and thought I was nuts. After having so many friends become angry with me that year, I learned my lesson to set a good example, yet not attempt to give others diet advice unless I was asked.

Since that time, I have continued to appreciate eating a natural, plant based diet, not only because it is delicious, but because it grants me the gift of health. I could not be more grateful for being raised on our unconventional diet and I am happy to report that I suffered no permanent damage from being allowed only three pieces of candy on Halloween and no other candy. Many of the foods I grew up eating have become my favorite foods and I realize how fortunate I am to never have to transition to eating healthier foods, as I was already there from the get-go. 

Let my previous words be words of encouragement to all mothers who are having difficulties raising nutritious eaters in our junk food world. Even if your child or children don’t appreciate the foods you are feeding them now or resent the denial of junk foods, they will in later years. Years that will be filled with good health, rather than debilitating health problems. Eating well is a lifestyle that should be embraced by the entire family and every child deserves to have the best start in life and can learn to love being “different,” just like I did.    

 

Why Have We Decided To Feed Our Kids Crap?

The following is a guest post from Habib Wicks, co-founder of PEERtrainer

Why Have We Decided To Feed Our Kids Crap?
It Is A Decision, And It Seems To Have Been Made...

 

"Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain't over now! Cause when the going gets tough.. The tough get goin'. Who's with me?" -Bluto, Animal House

"The modern diet that most children are eating today creates a fertile cellular environment for cancer to emerge at a later age.... In order to have a major impact on preventing cancer we must intervene much earlier, even as early as the first ten years of life"- Dr. Joel Fuhrman


I am trying to be funny, using some common humor to introduce a very very touchy subject. Food and kids. But the reality is that most children today, regardless of the socioeconomic context, eat piles of cheese, pasta, chicken fingers, fries, milk, cookies, pizza etc. Go to any birthday party or play date currently in the U.S. and this is what you see.

When children eat a junk food based diet, the groundwork is being laid. This is something that Jackie and I personally struggle with. We have two small children. We were both raised (thank God) by parents who knew the deal about nutrition. Every meal I ate as a child was served with green vegetables and salad. We ate burgers, ice cream, hot dogs and all the other stuff. But that was the exception.

The rule was greens, salad, local fish freshly caught in the Gulf Of Maine, fruit. The Cuisinart was (and still is) the center of my mothers kitchen. Onions, ginger, garlic-- all sorts of things went into the Cuisinart, the frying pan, pressure cooker. My mom cooked real food. Mac and cheese was something I ate at the babysitters house.

"What we feed (or don't) our children as they grow from birth to early adulthood has a greater total contributory effect on the dietary contributions to cancers than the dietary intake over the next fifty years" -Dr. Joel Furhman, Disease Proof Your Child

Fast forward to the present day. The households that Jackie and I grew up in are probably rarer now. Seems like it at least. The diets that our parents sought to protect us from appear to be totally dominant.

With our kids my objective is to get them to eat as much of the good stuff as possible, knowing that the junk is inevitable. We also work to enable them to make their own decisions as much as possible.

But that is us. We were raised a certain way, we started PEERtrainer. We have a well developed focus. The challenge for us, and me in particular is other parents. The reality of modern child rearing in America is that people are very cooperative and constantly share the load. Our kids are often in the care of other moms, nannies or otherwise in environments that we cannot totally control. There are endless birthday parties, play dates. Lots of cooperative, generous and helpful parents all around.

Yet, junk food is the default. The tough thing for a parent is that you really can't say anything. if you do, you violate the code. The code, as best I can tell is this: "don't rock the boat, and don't disrupt social agendas."

This is something I am really struggling with. And it is pissing off Jackie, because I actually said something recently. I absolutely should not have, but I did. I was tired, the younger child was screaming in my ear. And then it happened. We were all leaving school (last day) headed to some end of school kid parties. A local mom pulled up and very nicely asked if she could pick up some Wendy's for our kids.

She was just trying to be nice. But in the back of my mind I was thinking "why is this always the default"? I had been thinking about this for a while, holding my tongue for a few years now just watching as I said nothing. Unfortunately, this time I said exactly what I was thinking. Imagine being really nice to someone, as she was being to me, and have someone act like a total jerk. Which I was. I had been thinking about this problem, did not know the answer.

The question is though, who is there to bring this question up? Why is junk food the default? I could keep my kids at home and avoid all other contact. That would be insane on so many levels. Yet, the decisions of other parents effect my kids. That is the reality.

So there is no going around this issue. You can't keep your kids away from other kids, and you can't make you kids outcasts by forbidding them to eat foods that everyone else is.

You can't. You can find ways of subtly suggesting things. You can model and you can be patient. But that happens when that does not work? The most interesting question is this- what is really at the root of this phenomenon?

All of the parents we interact with really understand this issue. It is not like they don't know this stuff. Yet for some reason they choose not to prioritize it. Many of the moms will make sale day at Saks Fifth Avenue the top priority. They will give generously to others. Yet they won't make a simple decision to forgo Wendys, Mcdonalds etc for ANY OTHER alternative.

This is collective behavior. Everyone seems to be doing this- not just the one that was at the brunt of the end of my rope. One mom does something (we men generally just do what we are told btw- I think that might be part of the analysis here) and the other moms go along. Zero incentive to rock the boat.

When I asked this other mom "why is stuff like Wendys always the default?" Her first response was "the entire class is going there." Then she got pissed at me, understandably. And now other moms call Jackie and first ask if I want a Happy Meal. And it's funny on one level.

But the greater question is, for all of us who are parents and want to find some way of reducing the amount of junk that our kids collectively eat- what the hell are we supposed to do? All move to Boulder?

It is a puzzle. And it is serious.

"Most of the animal products eaten by children, such as cheese and milk, are exceptionally high in saturated fat. Saturated fat consumption correlates with cancer incidence worldwide. It also raises cholesterol levels and causes obesity and heart disease."

"Americans eat only 5 percent of calories from fruits, vegetables, beans and unprocessed nuts and seeds" -Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Right now cancer, heart disease and stroke will kill 85 percent of Americans. 85 percent. It may be that after the battles of marriage, career and raising kids many people actually want to die on some deep level.

One thing I do know is that group think can be changed. I just don't know how.

What is an Easy Target For Parents To Hit?

The basic solution to this problem is to attack the equation. Work on growing the 5 percent number. There is another great stat from Disease Proof Your Child that will help end this article on a positive note.

"Recent studies have also found that eating fruit during childhood had powerful effects to protect against cancer in later life. A sixty year study of 4,999 participants found that those who consumed more fruit in their childhood (the highest quartile) were 38 percent less likely to develop cancer as adults."

So if you are a competitive parent who wants their kids to score in the 99th percentile in tests- why would you not also want your kids to score high on their nutrient intake?

As for me, I am already the a**hole for bringing this up with the local parents. I understand I violated a set of social codes. But if you want to criticize me for making this an issue-- who is doing the most harm?

Maybe you are reading this just seething, thinking "worry about your damn kids." Fine, I do. But who is left to say something? Michelle Obama is doing a great job advocating gardening. The Disney channel seems to be doing a good job at running ads about spinach and fruit. Who else is there leading the effort? What is the trend, and who is making the effort?

From my vantage point as a parent there is a ton of work to be done. If you are a parent (or nosy grandparent!) please pick up a copy of Joel Fuhrman's book "Disease Proof Your Child." There is a ton of stuff in the book to chew on- and do you own research frankly. But you will find that this book raises a ton of important questions, and is extensively footnoted. There are seventeen pages of references to research studies at the end of the book.

And if you find a more tactful and more effective way to raise the issue in your community, please let me know.

 

This article was orignally published on PEERtrainer.com.

 

 

Family-Based Approach Helps Kids Lose Weight

Change the way kids think about health and lifestyle. According to new research, published by The Cochrane Library, family-based interventions, such as improving diet and more physical activity, help overweight children lose weight more than conventional self-help approaches. Scientists insist it’s important for parents to get involved and influence their children’s behavior; Reuters investigates.

Instilling healthy habits early is a great idea, especially when it comes to fitness. It’s been reported that a person’s activity level in youth, influences their over health as an adult. Maybe that’s why South Korea is giving away free gym memberships to children. Darn it! I want a free membership.

And don’t forget. Studies have shown kids eat like their parents. So dad, put down deep-fried hotdog!

Image credit: Brian Boros

Preschool Lunches, Parents Skimp on Healthy Stuff

This fall, a study revealed the food supplied to 94,000 public and private schools by the United States Department of Agriculture is of poor nutritional quality, too many high-fat foods, like pizza and chicken nuggets. In California, fruits and veggies only make up 13% of the total money spent on school food.

And now, new research in Journal of the American Dietetic Association claims most bagged lunches, packed by parents, did not have enough of fruits and vegetables. Researchers studied the lunches of 74 children from 5 different childcare centers, observing their packed lunch for 3 days. They found only 29% of the packed lunches had adequate fruits and vegetables. And many parents were more likely to pack foods kids liked, rather than healthy, nutritious foods; HealthDay News reports.

Not surprising. Some parents feed their kids pizza and French because they don’t like vegetables and fruit hurts their mouth. Kooky! That why Dr. Fuhrman says it’s the parents’ job to set the example, if you want your kids to eat healthfully, start eating YOUR fruits and veggies! Monkey see, monkey do.

Image credit: freshelectrons

Too Much TV Leaves Kids Unfit

SpongeBob and MySpace might be super cool. But new research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests teenagers who spend more than 2 hours in front of a television or computer each day, had less endurance during a standard running test than their peers. However, the findings do not support the theory that watching television or playing on the computer makes kids out-of-shape, but still, researchers recommend parents set clear rules for computer usage and TV time; Reuters reports.

Television has a nasty reputation. A previous report claims sitting around and watching good TV makes people more likely to overeat, the brain becomes distracted and doesn’t realize it’s over-consuming. And commercials make it worse! On average, children ages 8 to 12 are exposed to 7,600 ads a year, teenagers about 6,000 and little kids, ages 2 to 7, 4,400 commercials a year. Eek!

Go outside kids! You haven’t lived until you’ve spent hours throwing a tennis ball against a wall.
 

Genes Make Kids Eat Junk?

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine claims a gene-variant makes children more likely to eat junk foods. And in an experiment, kids with the gene consumed 100 calories more per meal. This can lead to over-consumption and weight-gain. However, since this trait does not affect metabolism, researchers insist the behavior can be worked on; HealthDay News reports.

We saw a similar situation yesterday, with research suggesting parents’ lifestyle can override children’s genetic risk of obesity. Not mention, parents’ exercise habits can rub off on their kids too!