Feeding Children Naturally: What's the Problem?

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey  finds that 14% of two- to five-year-olds and 17% of children and adolescents ages 12 to 19 in the U.S. are overweight. This number has tripled in past 20 years, apparently largely due to higher consumption of processed, highly refined, commercial food.


Caloric sweeteners definitely share a big part of the blame. Consumers, especially kids, choose sweeter product when they have the choice. Check these statistics.


Annual caloric sweetener consumption, per capita:


Before 1900- virtually none

1900- 37 lbs.

1986- 126 lbs.

2002- 152 lbs.



The average American eats over 20% more sugar (about 25 more pounds per person per year) than she did in 1986, a 20% increase in 15 years. About 20% of her calories are from refined sugar, with about 50- 80% of that from packaged products.


Soda consumption is a big part of the trend. About 65% of adolescent girls and 74% of adolescent boys consume soft drinks daily.  Today, it is the source of one-third of simple sugars consumed—the leading source of added sugars in the diet, amounting to 36.2 grams daily for adolescent girls and 57.7 grams for boys. From the mid 1970s through the mid 1990s, milk intake went down 36%, while soda and fruit drinks doubled.


A USDA study says that in 1996, daily per capita soda consumption among 19 year olds was 14 oz.  Now, in 2008, the average teenage boy drinks 24 ounces of soda. Today, one of every four drinks consumed is a soft drink. Our annual consumption averages out to more than 56 gallons for every for every man, woman and child. And someone's drinking my share, so some kids will of course be drinking far more than this.


According to the Journal of Pediatrics, on average, girls' consumption of regular soda rises two- to three-fold between the ages of 9 and 19. And as soda intake climbs, so does girls' daily calories and body mass index, a measure of weight in relation to height. This trend is partly to blame for the increase in childhood obesity. 


America's “tweens” more than doubled their use of type 2 diabetes (previously called “adult onset diabetes”) medications between 2002 and 2005, not to mention more children taking medications for other chronic conditions, including blood pressure, cholesterol, asthma and depression.


Sodas and sugary drinks also result in deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals. Nutritionists at Cornell University report that children who drank more than 12 ounces of sweetened drinks had lower intakes of phosphorous, calcium and vitamin A.


Sodas cause alarming rates of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.


Drinking just one soft drink a day—whether diet or regular—boosts the risk of getting heart disease, says a 2007 study in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation. A soda habit increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, according to the research, and that in turn ups the chance of getting both heart disease and diabetes. Even one soda per day increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome by about 50%. Decreasing soda and sweetened beverage consumption is one of THE MOST promising strategies for preventing obesity.


Teenagers who drink more soda have more mental health disorders, including hyperactivity and mental distress, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.


Cola beverages also have high phosphorus content which pushes up rates of bone loss and osteoporosis.


Refined Grains


Another significant dietary change occurring during the past century is an increase in the consumption of refined grains, such as white bread instead of whole wheat bread, and white rice instead of brown rice.


Problematic Foods


Unfortunately, the most common foods we eat are also the most likely to be problematic. Food allergy rates are rising, and large numbers of children have sensitivities to various foods to a certain degree. According to holistic pediatrician Lendon Smith, cow milk and wheat (any type) are the most likely to cause health problems in children. He says that he gets at least some amount of improvement in 80% of his juvenile patients by eliminating just these two food categories. Oh,  but what broad categories! The average American child eats at least one milk based food and one wheat based food at literally every meal.


Corn, soy, egg, beef, shellfish, citrus, yeast, chocolate and peanut round out the list of common problem foods.


Saturated fats (animal fats and margarine, albeit mainly those that have been chemically modified- the trans fats) increase clotting, raise LDL, and lower HDL cholesterol. Every 1 % decrease in total blood cholesterol reduces risk of coronary heart disease 2- 3 %.  (Current thinking is that this cholesterol may just be a symptom of underlying inflammation, and not a problem in and of itself.)


Our diets are sorely lacking in necessary essential fatty acids, which come from fresh vegetable oils. Essential fatty acid deficiency is associated with higher rates of ADHD, ear infections and overall inflammation.


Family Dynamic


A major contributing factor to this downward diet slide is the two job family. No time to cook means no time to bring nutrient-dense food to the table. Perhaps this is a must in modern society, but the result is meals based on convenience, not nutrition. No stable family meal times means people eating alone, out of the microwave.


According to a recent study, preschool children eat out 18% of the time, with middle schoolers at26%. Because of extracurricular activities and family lifestyle, one in every three children eats a fast-food meal every day. This situation only increases as they get older, because they are more likely to have opportunities and their own disposable income. The money in kids' pockets has nearly doubled every decade over the past 30 years, with a current average disposable income of $91 per week.


And then there is the long laundry list of barriers to eating a healthy diet. Health decisions often intersect with factors such as security, convenience, availability, cost and familiarity. On the whole, people actually know what they should be eating, but find it difficult to overcome these barriers.