Life is fast paced. Through the years we have adapted to a chaotic, high-speed lifestyle – racing through the necessary movements until we collapse from exhaustion when the kids are finally asleep or the last email has been answered. We have accepted this way of living, viewing it as the only method available to climbing the rungs on the idealistic ladder of success.
For just a few seconds please stop reading this article and ask yourself what repercussions this fast paced lifestyle could have on our lives?
Now, ask yourself the same question but think about the lives of your children.
In a day and age when children are increasingly diagnosed with prehypertension, hypertension, and diabetes it is pivotal to invest time each day in their health and well-being. Eriel Hayes, M.D., a pediatrician at Cook Children’s, believes there are two main factors contributing to the increased occurrence of high blood pressure in children and teenagers: salt intake and obesity.
“Kids are consuming as much sodium as adults- twice the recommended daily value. For every 1,000 milligrams of sodium consumed (1/2 teaspoon salt is equal to 1,150 mg sodium), researchers have found an increased risk of prehypertension and hypertension in children ages 8 through 18,” Dr. Hayes explained. Additional studies have shown that children who are considered ‘obese,’ with above average sodium consumption, are 74% more likely to develop prehypertension or hypertension. “Diagnosis of prehypertension or hypertension at a young age can increase the likelihood for heart disease or high blood pressure later in life,” Dr. Hayes added.
The fact of the matter is, kids love the way sweet and salty things taste and they will happily eat them for every meal. Busy schedules, finances, and the convenience of fast food restaurants bring the issue of a healthy diet to light. “It is difficult for two working parents to sit down at the dinner table and provide their kids with a balanced and nutritious meal, but it can be done. Rather than feeding their kids the salty and sweet, processed or fast foods which are high in sodium and calories, parents should instead follow healthy guidelines, such as those recommended on USDA’s ‘My Plate ‘(ChooseMyPlate.gov). Additionally, try to eat fast food less than once per week,” Dr. Hayes said. “Another problem that can contribute to consuming too many calories is that America is becoming desensitized to the appearance of overweight children,” which is problematic because sometimes parents worry their children are not eating enough and are too thin when they are actually at a healthy weight. Dr. Hayes added, “American society has simply progressed into a realm where fats are more readily available; a lot of new media is directed toward the fast food industry and new restaurant chains frequently appear, increasing opportunities to eat poorly.”
Sugary juices and energy drinks also have negative repercussions on the health and development of children and teenagers. According to Dr. Hayes, “children should consume 8 ounces or less of 100% juice each day and try to avoid other sugary drinks as much as possible.” Sugary beverages can add unnecessary calories and inhibit proper nourishment of the body. “We are seeing more teenagers drinking energy drinks and coffee which can cause additional problems. When teenagers try to stay awake late at night, coffee and energy drinks become the ‘cool thing.’ High caffeine intake in developing children can result in heart issues, like racing heart or chest pain, and sleep problems. These drinks may also contain extra calories that contribute to obesity and can affect blood pressure,” Dr. Hayes explained.
It is not too late to combat these issues and prevent America’s youth from succumbing to a lifetime of health conditions.
Dr. Hayes provided a few easy guidelines to keep your children happy, healthy, and properly nourished.
- If parents don’t buy it, kids can’t have it: Parents are in control of what their children consume. Children do not have the knowledge or resources to make their own nutrition decisions. Additionally, parents and teachers should discuss healthy alternatives with their school board: exercise programs, less sodas in vending machines, and healthier school lunches.
- Dangerous foods: When children consume processed and fast foods, as well as sugary or caffeinated beverages, they are at risk of being undernourished and lacking the proper vitamins and minerals to develop. Consuming too many calories increases the risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The best way for kids to grow and develop is to have a balanced and healthy diet.
- Portion size: The proper meal portion for a child is the size of their fist. Do not force your child to clean their plate, allow them to stop eating when they are satisfied.
- Blood pressure and cholesterol screening: Starting at age 3, all children should receive annual blood pressure screenings. Blood pressure may be checked sooner, based on the child’s history and office policy. To set a good example, parents should know their own cholesterol values and visit the doctor each year to make sure they do not have high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. Parents should also be aware of their family medical history; if the previously mentioned conditions are prevalent or the child has a body mass index above the 95th percentile, cholesterol screening may be needed as early as age 2. All other children should be initially screened between the ages of 9 and 11, and again between the ages of 17 and 21.
- Exercise and fun activities: Diet is only one part of the solution. Children need 30 to 60 minutes of activity each day to maintain a healthy weight. Computer games, television, and a plethora of other technological innovations are contributing to children living a more sedentary lifestyle.
It is impossible to slow life down but if we can slow down the pace at which we approach each day, we can positively affect the lives of those we love.
Eriel Hayes, M.D., joined the Cook Children’s Forest Park practice in 2012. She loves all aspects of pediatrics, including advocacy, nutrition, and watching her patients grow and develop. Her husband, Matt, is also a physician and is currently finishing training in Anesthesia. They are very excited to start building a life in Fort Worth with their cat, Kirby. Outside of medicine, Dr. Hayes enjoys running, dance, singing, and reading.