The State of Our Children’s Diet

Every mother has said, “Eat your vegetables,” to her child at some point. As it turns out, mother always knows best. A poor diet, be it too little, too much or the wrong balance of food, can increase our children’s risks of many diseases and illnesses that can become debilitating and life-threatening. A new small study suggests that obese teenagers are at an increased risk for inflammation, insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes), and oxidative stress (which can lead to blood vessel damage). These metabolic abnormalities suggest that the process of developing heart disease has already started in these children, making it critical for them to make definitive lifestyle and diet changes.

The researchers in the study compared the diets of 33 young obese people (aged 11 to 19 years) to 19 people in the same age group who were of normal weight.) Unsurprisingly, teens in both groups weren’t getting proper nutrition because they didn’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, fiber and dairy products, but the obese teens in particular consumed less dairy and fewer servings of fruit. Potassium and vitamins A, C and D — which are found in fortified dairy products and deeply colored fruits and vegetables — were all found to be lacking in the diets of the obese children.

Another recent study published in the Nov. 2010 online edition of Circulation suggests that children who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may be able to help ward off atherosclerosis in adulthood, a precursor of heart disease. Kids who eat produce nearly every day develop more flexible arteries. Having arteries that resemble bendy straws is a good thing; stiff arteries make your heart work harder and blockages are more likely.

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These studies provide insight into the early development of vascular disease and have important implications for prevention efforts in children.

If your kids are about as interested in broccoli and apples as in math homework (in other words, NOT), these parent-tested strategies can boost their produce quotient without a food fight:

–Eat them yourself. When parents eat their veggies, kids do, too. They’re hard-wired to mimic what you do — monkey-see-monkey-do still works.

–Keep on offering them. Pack red pepper strips or broccoli in lunches. Add sliced kiwi or a mango. If they come home untouched, don’t flip out. Just do it again and again. It can take 10 to 15 “introductions” for a youngster to try and like a new food.

–Invite a friend of your child‘s over who likes veggies — your guy may model his behavior.

–Don’t force the issue. High-pressure tactics make dinnertime a downer, and can turn your child off to the Brussels sprouts you’ve finally learned to love.

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