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The overall health of children in the UK is noticeably on the decline; not only in the UK, but all round the world. Children are less aerobically fit than their parents were as kids, a decline that researchers say could be setting them up for serious health problems once they're grown up. Children today take 90 seconds longer to run a mile than children did 30 years ago, according to data from 28 countries. The reason for this could be the most prevalent childhood obesity and constant mental distractions from television, electronic games and mobile phones.
The most significant current health issue predominant at present is obesity which affects not only individual children but also their families. According to new research that looks at obesity trends in over 200 countries, one in ten young people in the UK, aged between 5 and 19, is obese. And health issues are not just about physical health; it’s estimated that in every school classroom in the UK, at least three children are suffering from a mental health issue.
Pupils often return to lessons in September overweight, and experts warn that lazy summers could have a severe long-term health impact. As well as being linked to impaired physical development, shorter attention span and lower grades, an inactive long summer holiday means a higher risk of deadly diseases such as heart disease, cancer and type-II diabetes in later life.
Children should be encouraged to exercise and have a healthy and varied diet. Apart from physical exercise, parents should encourage their children to perform mental activities in order to increase their cognitive development; also, spend time in nature and take part in various art activities to help them develop the artistic side. Regarding diet, children, like adults, should aim to eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Experts say unsweetened 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should only count as one portion of a child's five a day, because of the high level of sugar they contain.
Dietary recommendations for children should include foods and drinks that provide adequate energy and nutrients for their needs. Children’s diets from the age of 5 should consist of starchy carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, and some protein and dairy foods. Carbohydrates should include starchy foods such as wholegrain versions and potatoes with their skins on as they contain more fibre. Children should also eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout or sardines. Oily fish contains long chain omega 3 fatty acids which are important for normal brain function, bones, cardiovascular system, growth and development. Saturated fats in child’s diet should be replaced with unsaturated fats such as olive, rapeseed, sunflower and corn oils, oily fish, nuts and seeds. Children should also consume enough Iron through diet such as meat, liver, wholegrain cereals, pulses, beans, nuts, sesame seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and fortified breakfast cereals. Also, during children’s growth and development there is a high demand of vitamins like A, C and D. This is because these vitamins are important for normal bone formation, immune function, healthy skin, eyes and body tissues.
Children’s immune systems can be compromised if they're constantly being bombarded with food intolerances, additives, preservatives, and sugar. If a child has a food allergy, it will be more difficult for the immune system to combat bacteria and viruses. It’s a similar story when a child consumes more additives and preservatives than the body can deal with. Sugar has been shown in many clinical trials to actually suppress immunity. To maintain children’s optimum immune function, we should limit their overall intake of additives and sugar, and find out which foods are allergens. In order to resist bugs related to poor gut health we should make sure that children consume enough probiotics. Probiotics are the friendly helpful bacteria that naturally occur in our guts. They protect our digestive tracts, help us to digest food, assist in toxin clearance, and shield us from invading bacteria and viruses. When this bacterial balance becomes disrupted in children, we can see changes in a child’s ability to fend off infections.
To support normal functioning of the brain, good mood and cognitive function, children should be encouraged to consume enough Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids (found mainly in oily fish, but also in walnuts, pumpkin and flax seeds) help build and maintain myelin. They also facilitate communication between nerve cells and enable nerve impulses to pass from one neuron to another. This is why fish oil supplements are known to boost children's mental performance. Consuming enough probiotics is also important for happy mood and normal cognitive function. This is because certain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are known to stimulate production of neurotransmitters required for good mood, mental focus and healthy cognitive function.
Previous studies have shown the intuitive causal chain of childhood obesity leading to adult obesity, which in turn leads to complications, however, recent evidence shows that childhood obesity may also create these effects independent of adult obesity. Childhood obesity may itself be enough to cause outcomes including metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and its associated cardiovascular, retinal and renal complications, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obstructive sleep apnoea, polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, asthma, orthopaedic complications, psychiatric disease, and increased rates of cancer, among others.
Parents should learn how to positively influence the children’s eating habits by creating a positive eating environment and being a good role model. This would help children develop healthy eating habits later in life. Also, having regular meal and snack times every day creates a healthy routine. Most importantly, parents should buy healthy foods when they shop. The foods available in the fridge, freezer, cupboards and pantry are what the children will get used to eating.
Nutritionist/Pharmacologist at HealthAid Ltd.
Any information or product suggested on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition. Never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Consult your primary healthcare physician before using any supplements or making any changes to your regime.