Undernourished in a Land of Plenty?

The typical diet of a child in America looks like this: minimal amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains but lots of junk food, soda and juice. In fact many children and adults are eating their weight in sugar every year! If you look up the definition in the Webster dictionary of malnutrition you see the following: faulty nutrition especially due to inadequate intake of nutrients. Would the typical kids’ diet meet this definition?  I think so.

When I look around at what I see children eating at soccer games, in restaurants and at school for snack, I am reminded of a thesis question I was given during my oral examination for my doctorate in nutrition. The dean asked me if a person would be considered to be starving if they ate dog food every day. You may think that this is a weird question but eating pet food is a real issue for the elderly. Many older Americans do not have enough money to buy what they need so they resort to the cheap price of cat or dog food for nourishment.  My answer to this question was yes they were starving even if they got the protein, fat and carbohydrates that they needed every day. The question was challenging because there was no one correct answer. Nutrition-wise they could survive on dog food but humanity-wise it wasn’t right.

This question had a major impact on the way I practiced and continue to practice nutrition. Years later I am struck between the similarities of this question and what I see kids eating every day. When I look at children eating chips, and drinks dyed neon blue, candy, crackers, cookies, and diets full of processed “food”, how is that any different than the elderly eating dog food?  Nutrition-wise you can dump vitamins and minerals into junk food and soda but does mean that our children are getting what they need to grow up to reach their potential? My answer would be the same as it was for the elderly: our children are undernourished even if they may get their fat, protein and carbohydrates from junky sources.

Kid’s bodies, as well as our own, are genetically built to thrive on a plant based diet with a limited amount of animal protein added (if desired). Our bodies are not equipped to handle the enormous amount of sugar and unhealthy fat that a junk food and fast food diet delivers. Do we need any more proof of that?  Children who consume a diet high in sugar and junk food are at an increased risk of the following: being overweight, developing diabetes, developing heart disease and cancer, as well as an increased risk of having a behavioral or learning disorder. If you are worried about your child’s diet, don’t fret. Turning kids’ diets around does not need to be stressful; just make healthy changes one step at a time. Build Healthy Kids mission is to help you do just that.

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