Thanks for stopping by DocSmo.com, where portable, practical pediatrics is our specialty! Our goal is to provide pediatric advice on your schedule, answering your questions on any topic concerning your children. Today, we will be talking about one of my personal pet peeves, how seemingly innocent snacking poses some serious consequences for your children’s health. Diabetes, heart disease, pancreatic issues, obesity, and tooth decay are only a few of the problems that arise from babies and young children eating little puffs, pastries, and crackers and drinking sugary drinks throughout the day. In America, children are treated to little snacks almost round the clock, from sugary cereals at preschool to after-sports snacks of cupcakes and cookies. Oftentimes, mothers carry these little snacks around in their purse to calm their child while they are out running errands because it seems so very convenient. However, when weighed against obesity, heart disease, tooth decay, and pancreatic troubles, not to mention a potential risk for addiction to carbohydrates, the snacking eating pattern is incredibly destructive.
Carbohydrate Metabolism 101
First, a quick detour down “science lane” to make sure you understand the basics of how your child regulates his or her blood sugar. Having just the right amount of glucose–a sugar–in your child’s blood at all times is essential to their good health. A very low or high blood sugar means coma in a child. Your child’s brain cannot function without it. Making sure that there is just the right amount of glucose is the job of his or her pancreas by tweaking the amount of insulin in their blood. We have all heard of the hormone insulin, right? It’s the hormone that keeps glucose or sugar levels in the blood from rising to dangerous levels. Insulin unlocks the door to cells and allows cells to burn and store sugar. So when your little Johnny or Janie has a snack that contains carbohydrates (another word for sugar), especially a snack that has no fiber to slow down the sugar absorbsion, their little pancreas has to make insulin pronto to unlock the door to fat cells to remove the sugar from their blood. If they can’t, a dangerous rise in blood sugar occurs. So, what do you think is happening when a parent throws puffs, goldfish, and cookies at their child all day? Not only does this tend to make them overweight, but it keeps their insulin levels high all day…an unnatural unhealthy state. Recent studies show that children are snacking at least 3 times a day on top of 3 regular meals, taking in an extra 300-500 calories per snack. Kids are moving towards a state of constant eating, and once these patterns become habit, they will be hard to break going into adulthood. 27 percent of calories kids consume are due to snack foods, paralleling the increase to a 16 percent obesity rate in recent years. A strong relationship between obesity and increased insulin levels in the blood has been found, undoubtedly resulting from the constant intake of sugary snacks and juice pouches. Increased insulin levels have also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, resulting from high levels of bad cholesterol, low levels of good cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Additionally, studies have also shown that reduced insulin sensitivity, or the body’s decreased ability to respond to blood sugar, leads to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Above all, however, and perhaps most surprisingly, unhealthy eating habits can lead to carbohydrate addiction. The brain functions that control when and how much we eat are deregulated by the constant cycle of eating. Children also begin to expect these unhealthy foods throughout the day, lessening their desire for healthy foods and fueling the addiction to sugary, fatty foods.
Reducing Sugar Intake in Your Children
So what can we do to encourage the health of our future generations? Here are a few suggestions: limit the number of snacks you give your child and avoid on-the-go snacks as much as possible. Toddlers and preschoolers can go 2 to 3 hours between eating. Older children can last for 3 or 4 hours. When your children are hungry for a little snack, replace high calorie processed foods for carrot sticks, fruit, or something healthy. Talk to other parents who bring snacks for school events or after school activities and suggest a smart-snack pledge I call my “Crunch Out” campaign. Get involved or begin a wellness program at your child’s school where healthy eating and exercise habits are reinforced. Kids can’t speak up for themselves, so it’s our job to speak up for them; let school officials and organizers know the downfalls of unhealthy snacks. It’s natural for parents not to want their children to go hungry, so let’s work together to do this in a healthy way.
Thank you for dropping by and spending some time with me today. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have questions, comments, or concerns. Also, check out my pedcasts available for download on iTunes, and send this pedcast on to family or friends who may find it useful. Until next time, Doc Smo here, hoping your child has a little less sweet when they have their next treat. I want to thank one of my interns, Keri Register, for her help in researching and writing this pedcast. Thanks Keri. Until next time.