Kids: What is the REAL Health Problem?
Talk of keeping kids safe and protecting their health is a hot topic right now. As it should be. But we are looking at it from the wrong perspective. We are worrying about the wrong things. We are missing out on the big picture. We have alarming numbers on the rise in terms of our children’s health in the United States. But it's not the numbers people are talking about right now.
About 30% of children 0 - 19 are overweight or obese. In fact, in an article from JAMA “Trends in Consumption of Ultraprocessed Foods Among US Youths Aged 2-19 Years, 1999-2018,” looked at what children are eating. They found after monitoring and analyzing data, “the estimated percentage of total energy from consumption of ultra processed foods increased from 61.4% to 67.0%” while the “total energy from consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods decreased from 28.8% to 23.5%.” Put another way, 67% of what US children are eating is directly linked to the formation of chronic disease- obesity, heart disease, and insulin resistance. These foods are also directly linked to behavior problems, trouble concentrating, anxiety, and depression. And don’t miss this - the amount of unprocessed foods our kids are eating is going down!
And yet, this is not the focus of conversation in our current situation. Instead, the conversation around “keeping our kids safe” is centered on masks, vaccines, and quarantines. The focus of this blog is not to debate any of those things. I have always said, and still believe, parents should have the right to choose what is best for their children. However, we can’t ignore all the data surrounding the health of our kids if we are going to make those decisions. Currently, there are about 75,000,000 children in the United States ages 0 - 19. Of those 75 million, 378 have died due to Covid related illness. This is a death rate of 0.01%. If you dig further into the data, a significant number of those children had one to two comorbidities. In comparison, during the same period of time that this information was collected, 540,918 children died from other causes. Therefore, Covid represents 0.07% of all childhood deaths.
I share all of this data not to minimize the deaths of children because my heart breaks for any parent who has experienced the loss of a child. My purpose in sharing those statistics is to shed light on the fact that we have spent quite a bit of time debating the “health” of our children surrounding Covid, while data is showing the risk of dying from this virus is extremely low. In addition, we are ignoring the significant rise of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic issues that are plaguing our children. Coincidentally, these are all comorbidities that have been proven risk factors for Covid. And yet, we are not talking about how to improve these risk factors in our children.
The food our children eat plays a huge role in their overall health. In addition, getting them outside and active is also critical. Over the course of this pandemic, children’s health has been put at an even greater risk for disease not due to Covid, but due to the situations they have been placed in. We have increased their screen time by forcing them to do school behind a screen. We have created an environment where they are moving less by staying home, and not having the ability to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. We have manufactured this perfect storm for our children by creating an environment where they are spending more time sitting at home, not moving, and eating processed foods. And we know this combination is leading to an increase of health problems children should never experience. In addition to a ride in anxiety and suicide rates, the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD or concentration problems has increased significantly. There is a direct correlation between ADHD and the foods children are consuming. And yet, we are not discussing this correlation, but rather medicating children without also changing their diets.
Going back to the statistic 30% of our children are obese or overweight - how can we ignore this when talking about the health of our kids? Why is our focus only on masking and vaccines, while not having a conversation about the alarming increase in Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Why are we not discussing the food industry’s direct targeting of our kids with ads for their “food” that is making them sick? Why are we not working to provide assistance to families to get quality, whole foods in their homes, and educating them on how to make changes for their children’s diets? THIS is what should be the focus of the conversation when it comes to children’s health. Because if we shifted the topics and focused on what is truly a risk to our children’s health, we would also improve their immune systems to handle whatever virus comes their way.
Again, I am by no means debating the choices people make for their own children. However, I do believe we as a society need to be made more aware of the risk factors that are contributing to the health of our children. And it's not be talking about. Take a minute and Google "kids health a real epidemic" and see what comes up. The whole page is all about Covid-19, without a mention of all the risk factors I just discussed. If we are going to talk about our children's health, we have to stop ignoring the big picture.