Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby, Healthy Children: Why Our Children Are Getting Sicker and Why You Need to Be Concerned
One of the fondest memories I have from my childhood is playing with the neighborhood kids. The fun, imaginative games that we would come up with only ended when the streetlight came on and it was too dark outside to see where we were going. We would end the day covered in sweat and dirt, hungry to eat back all of the calories we had burned running, climbing, and conjuring up new worlds in our imagination. Gone are those days. Children today spend more and more time inside in front of the television, on their iPhones, or playing video games than ever before. If you add up the total amount of screen time children get, the average child by the age of 7 will have spent an entire year in front of an electronic screen of some sort. Children are eating more fast food and processed food, getting less exercise, and pumped full of more prescription medications than ever before in history. And yet we ‘don’t understand’
why they are getting more and more sick.
There are many factors that play into the health and well-being of our children. In my opinion, we are looking at each component of children’s health and trying to postulate outcomes without looking at the bigger picture. So with this article, we are going to address some of the trends that are possibly leading to the decline of our children’s health and what we can do to reverse them.
PRE-CONCEPTION HEALTH AND PREGNANCY
There was an article written by Time magazine in 2010 entitled “How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life” (Google it…it’s a great read!). The article addresses a fascinating area of research: fetal origins. This area of study looks at the health of the mother prior to conceiving and during pregnancy and how this affects fetal development. Everything from the mother’s health, nutrition, weight, toxin exposure, stress level, and state of mind has been shown to affect the developing baby.
Babies born to mothers who went through a period of starvation or excessive stress during their pregnancy had a higher chance of developing schizophrenia as an polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, a pollutant in the air that is a product of vehicle exhaust, had infants with a 40% risk of subtle DNA damage from the PAHs, which has been linked to an increase risk for cancer.
A developing baby has yet to experience anything outside of the womb. He is completely dependent on his mother to provide the building blocks for growth and development as well as to communicate what life in the “outside world” is like. A mother who is stressed and/or anxious is releasing stress hormones, which cross the placental barrier and communicate to the baby and his developing brain that he is about to encounter a stressful situation. This primes his brain and body to encounter a world where he needs to be anxious and on-guard as well. This could partly explain why colic and reflux are on the rise in infants and why one of the fastest growing populations using prescription anti-depressants is children under the age of 18.
Solution: Mothers need to prepare their bodies and lifestyles for pregnancy long before they start trying to conceive. Proper dietary habits, rest, exercise, nutritional supplementation and emotional health are all crucial aspects of a healthy pregnancy. This isn’t meant to put more pressure on women (we already put enough pressure on ourselves!) but rather as encouragement to learn more about the process so that they can make informed decisions throughout pregnancy.
Mothers can have their nutrient levels tested (we have several lab panels here at the Riordan Clinic for women before trying to conceive) to make sure they have adequate nutrient reserves to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Stress levels can be reduced through proper rest, reduced workload, meditation, chiropractic care and massage.
EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
The first five years of a child’s life are some of the most important, developmentally, that they experience throughout their lifetime. Children develop 90% of the connections between the two hemispheres of their brain by the age of five! So before they’ve even started school, their brain is mostly developed.
One of the best windows into brain development in children is tracking their developmental milestones. Most pediatricians will say that as long as they hit the milestones, then children are developing normally. Not so. It’s not so important when they hit their milestones, but more so the order and timing in which they hit them. Each new skill that an infant develops is an indicator of connections being made within the brain. 85% of our genetic code is devoted to how the brain makes connections….it is THAT important!! If a child skips crawling or does not crawl properly, that is an indication that important “cross crawl” connections were never made. This shows up down the road in children as hyperactivity and learning disabilities.
Solution: Track your child’s development closely (but again, don’t stress about it!). Some children might need extra help and encouragement during the developmental period. Get down on the ground with your infant and crawl. They will observe and mimic your actions. Give them toys that are developmentally appropriate and show them how to play with them.
Keep your children out of all of the “contraptions” that exist for infants. All of the Bumbo seats, exersaucers, and jumpers put children in positions for which they are not developmentally equipped. If a child does not have the core strength to sit up on his own, he should not be in a Bumbo seat. If a child cannot stand on his own, he should not be in an exersaucer. (My opinion, a child should never be in the jumpers … it is putting WAY too much stress on their lower back and could lead to back problems down the road). For the first 6 months of life, a child should either be held in your arms, in a sling, or lying on the ground with something to play with. One of my favorite toys for infants is the “jungle gym,” which is a mat that the baby can lay on with toys dangling down. Let your child explore the world on his own terms.
Get your child adjusted by a chiropractor! The connections within the brain that help a child learn and develop are made based on feedback information coming from the nervous system and the body. Chiropractic care for children ensures that accurate information is communicated. This is one of the best times to make sure a child’s nervous system is functioning properly!
NUTRITION AND EXERCISE FOR CHILDREN
Of course this one seems like a no-brainer. Kids should eat healthy foods and get proper amounts of exercise…but HOW?
Kids are very intuitive when it comes to food. They have been genetically programmed to gravitate toward sweets and fats. The food industry knows this and has gotten very good at chemically manipulating food to make it more appealing to our senses. They slip high fructose corn syrup and processed oils into everything from infant formula to breads and cereals to yogurt. 16% of the average child’s diet comes from sugar. This equates to around 450 calories per day from sugar alone. A great book to read is, “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease” by Dr. Robert Lustig. He will change the way you view your sugar intake habits!
Approximately 12.5 million children are obese (17% of the population). That is an extremely alarming statistic. There are many variables that contribute to it (including a 36% obesity rate for adults). Lack of exercise is not the only cause, but it is a huge contributor to the obesity epidemic in children. Why aren’t kids exercising? The newest research is showing that kids do not know how to play. This seems like a funny idea because “play” should be intuitive for children. However, kids spend so much time in front of a screen (the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates around 7 hours and 38 minutes per day) that they are losing the ability and drive to develop imaginative play. The less they play, the less they are getting exercise. The CDC reports that only 1 in 5 children live within walking distance of a park. Kids are spending increasingly more amounts of time indoors and less outside playing.
Solution: Exercise and dietary habits start very early in children. Here are a few tips:
• Moms should make every attempt to breastfeed, which will give your child nutritional and immunological advances from an early age.
• When introducing foods, avoid any processed snacks and processed grains, which usually contain added preservatives, sugar and unhealthy fats. I know how easy it is to give kids a bowl of cheerios to munch on, but resist the urge as much as possible. Instead, substitute for fresh or dried vegetables and fruits (with no added sugar).
• Eat dinner as a family without any distractions. This will encourage a home-cooked meal instead of on-the-go-fast food.
• Your child will take cues from you and your dietary habits, so be a good role model!
• If you want your child to like vegetables, add a little bit of healthy oil (coconut or olive oil) after you have cooked the vegetable and a pinch of sea salt. This will train your child’s taste buds to enjoy vegetables and give them healthy oils, which are great for his developing brain!
• A great book to read is “Feeding the Whole Family” by Cynthia Lair. She gives recipe ideas that are easy and use all whole food ingredients. She breaks down each recipe and gives ideas on what components of the recipe to give your children at each age and stage of development.
• It’s hard to get all of the nutrients kids need from their diet alone. Supplement with a multi-vitamin for kids and/or add a greens food powder to their juice. (I recommend GreensFirst brand because it tastes the best).
• Turn off the TV and phone and play with your children. Help them come up with games they can play on their own.
• Make exercise fun for kids. Take them to the park and make a special day out of it by packing a picnic or a healthy treat.
• Again, be a good role model. The more children grow up with parents who make exercise a priority, the more they will adopt those habits in their own life.
• Find unique ways to incorporate exercise. If you are going out to dinner, walk to the restaurant. Those extra few miles are a fun time to have a good conversation with your kids while getting some aerobic exercise.
The trends in children’s health are declining rapidly. More kids than ever before are being diagnosed with asthma, allergies, diabetes, ADD/ADHD, autism, depression, obesity…and the list goes on and on. Our children’s health is in a state of crisis and our current healthcare model has not been able to reverse those trends. It’s time for us as parents, future parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends to start taking action! Let’s start thinking outside the box of societal norms to come up with solutions.
In my opinion, the best way to address these concerns can be summed up in one word: simplify. Kids do not need a lot to be happy and content. They want your love, affection, and attention. Remove from your life all of the gadgets, toys, and activities that aren’t necessary. Spend time with your kids, teach them, encourage them, cook for them, and adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors of your own to model. That is the best gift of health you can give!