WHAT children eat greatly determines their growth and development, the integrity of their immune system, their body’s ability to ward off infections and diseases, and their morbidity and longevity.
The other essential factors are their daily physical activities, abstinence from harmful substances, like tobacco and illegal drugs, and disciplined intake of alcoholic beverages. While genetics play a role in all this, it has been proven that a healthy lifestyle can significantly benefit even those individuals with some of the so-called “bad” genetic traits.
Whatever healthy habits parents want to teach their children must always start with them leading by example because kids do as their parents do. They mimic adults around them. Preaching good habits, without practicing them, almost always fails.
Dieting must really start in the crib. Babies are taught discipline this early, whether we realize it or not. Giving them their formula at a set amount and at a scheduled interval teaches the baby about the rules of feeding. And their young brains soon learn this.
When the baby is four to six months, pediatricians usually recommend introducing them to solid foods, like a teaspoon of semi-liquid iron-fortified rice cereal and other grains like oats or barley, mixed with breast milk or formula, and gradually increasing it to a tablespoon twice daily. At age six to eight months, introduce pureed or strained fruits (banana, pears, applesauce, peaches) and vegetables (squash, well-cooked carrots, sweet potato, avocado).
Until 3 years old, it is the best time to teach children to love and eat healthy food like vegetables, fruits, fish, white chicken meat, instead of pork and beef and other red meats, which are all high in unhealthy animal saturated fats and cholesterol. When bad habits have settled in at age 2 or older, they are hard to break. This where we, as parents and as a society, have failed our children — the future leaders of our country.
And since effective teaching is by example, we, parents and grandparents, must practice what we preach. The do-what-I-say, not-what-I-do, command will never work.
Those children, whose parents eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, stay away from red meats, do daily exercises, do not smoke, and drink only socially and in moderation, grow up to develop the same healthy habits and preferences.
The menu for school lunches in the United States, by and large, is a social injustice, says chef Ann Cooper, known as the Renegade Lunch Lady, who is “transforming how U.S. children eat, one federally-subsidized school lunch at a time.”
The fatty red meats, carbo (sugar)-loaded and processed food lunches are out, and salad bars, whole grains, organic milk, and fish are in.
As Cooper says, “when we feed children with a diet high in sugar and corn syrup, they just can’t think, and if kids are not well-nourished, they can’t excel.”
Around the world, it is not rare to find kindergarten student with type 2 diabetes, or kidney stones among pre-teens, and teenagers with high cholesterol and clogged arteries. This is terrifying and unfortunate because this is preventable.
At least 32 percent of children and teenagers in the United States are overweight or obese. And Asians, especially Filipinos, are not lagging far behind in this pandemic. Obesity leads to increased risk of developing diabetes and other metabolic illnesses, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
In this day and age of lightning speed telecommunication, media, and rapid internet access, we simply have no excuse to remain ignorant of scientific data on how to live a healthy lifestyle for maximum longevity and productivity, and protecting our loved ones along the way, especially the young children.
Having said all that, there is really no such thing as too late in our quest for healthy lifestyles, no matter how old we are. Simple changes in diet and institution of exercise, for instance, even among those who are over 50, have been shown to positively affect the control of, if not prevent, metabolic diseases, such as arthritis and diabetes, and hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
So, while the ideal is to start teaching our kids how to live a healthy lifestyle, as early as in their crib or toddler life, we — whose parents did not know any better when we were growing up — can always mend our ways and start living a healthier lifestyle. Indeed, it’s never too late.
The following excerpts are from my previous column about 14 years ago, entitled “Let’s Stop Killing Our Children With Love”:
About nine persons die every minute in the world from cardiovascular diseases brought on by arteriosclerosis, resulting from daily intake of high fat/high cholesterol foods, lack of exercise, and smoking. There is no question that hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol serum level) plays a major role in hardening of the arteries. Medical science shows that while the genetic factor is important, only one out of 500 people has the genetic predisposition to develop familial hypercholesterolemia. That one unfortunate individual has the alibi to have hypercholesterolemia, but the 499 of us simply have no excuse whatsoever to have this problem. And yet, we do — all because of self-abuse. This is nothing but an act of slow suicide on our part!
Just like many illnesses, heart attack and stroke are best prevented. The best time to start these preventive measures is during infancy, way before the hardening of the arteries begins. We have to stop killing our children with love and start instilling discipline in them while they are in the crib, if we want them to lead long, healthy, happy, and productive lives. We must learn to say “no” to our children, where and when appropriate.
The power is in our hands. Let us not allow them to slip through, especially not in the name of love. And if we truly love them, we will do what’s best for them, even if it hurts.
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org