Every day, one-third of American children eat a fast-food meal.

According to News Medical, Life Sciences, fast food or junk food is a generic term for all kinds of food which are rich in energy, because they contain a lot of fat and sugar, as well as salt, but are relatively low in other important nutrients such as protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Regular junk food intake leads to long-term health problems such as obesity, accompanying emotional and self-esteem problems, and chronic illnesses in later life. A single fast-food meal could add 160 and 310 extra kilocalories to the daily caloric intake for teenagers and younger children, respectively.

Information gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that between 2015-2018, children and adolescents consumed on average 13.8 percent of their daily calories from fast food on a given day.

There is a strong link between the amount of fast food that children consume and their likelihood of becoming overweight or obese and developing conditions including type 2 diabetes that can lead to kidney disease in later years.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease.

“Kids who start on the path of extra weight gain during this really important timeframe tend to carry it forward into adolescence and adulthood, and this sets them up for major health consequences as they get older,” said Jennifer Emond, PhD, MS, an assistant professor of biomedical data science and of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. “We now know from our studies and others, that fast food, by itself, uniquely contributes to weight gain.”

Naomi Jones, mother of 7-year-old Ruth, described the difficulty that parents face in trying to limit fast food.

“She begs for burgers and fries every time we go out. And no one wants water with junk food, so you add a chocolate milkshake, and the calories go up.”

Fast-food meals are fine occasionally — the key is to not make junk food a daily routine.

“It’s not realistic to ban children from eating out, but to be careful when you choose to do so,” offers Stacey Nelson, a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “Fast food is not health food and never will be, so the idea is never to make it a habit. Look at the nutrition information that many restaurants make available these days and make choices with fewer calories and less saturated fat and sugar.”

Parents can do a lot to help children develop healthy eating habits while they are young.
• Drink more water and fewer sugary drinks.
• Eat more fruits and vegetables.
• Make favorite foods healthier.
• Get kids involved in making healthier meals.
• Shop for food together.
• Shop on a full stomach so you’re not tempted to buy unhealthy food.
• Teach your child to read food labels to understand which foods are healthiest.
• Have meals together as a family as often as you can.
• Eat slowly, it takes at least 20 minutes to start feeling full.
• Don’t insist children clean their plates.
• Serve small portions, let children ask for seconds.
• Be an example for your child, eat healthy foods and snacks

Along with a healthy diet, daily exercise is essential for children’s overall fitness.
• Aim for your child to get 60 minutes of physical activity a day
• Start slow and build up.
• Keep it positive, focus on progress.
• Make physical activity more fun, try new things.
• Ask your child what activities they like best, everyone is different.
• Plan active outings like walking, running, or biking.
• Exercise, take walks together.
• Move more in and out of the house like walking up or down stairs.
• Turn chores into games, like racing to see how fast you can clean the house.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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