While scavenging the refrigerator on Family Day for a healthy lunch for our 18-month-old daughter, my husband and I began to lament the good old days of our culinary upbringing. We longed for the ease of our parent's food-prep epoch that innocently pulled together long-weekend lunches comprised of Chef Boyardee or SpagettiOs with a well-deserved side of fruit-roll-up. It was easy, economical and did I mention easy? We digressed into a serious analysis of whether the organic, gluten-free, kale-laden yuppie meals we prepared with such diligence were worth the effort. Would our daughter live longer, be healthier or become a more productive adult? As most parents know, convincing a two-, four- or 10-year-old kid that their kale chips and sugar-free cookies are as cool as Lunchables is a tougher sell than RIM shares in the summer of 2012.
As it pertains to the long-term perspective, when adults see me in my private practice, they are not coming because they want to live longer, they are investing their time and money because they are fed up with chronic headaches, menstrual cramps, ADD, digestive difficulties or fertility challenges. In each of these circumstances, without fail, we begin our clinical journey by addressing diet -- most of the time, reducing or eliminating the problem with lifestyle attention alone.
Although the management of menstrual cramps seems like a long way away for our 18-month-old, there is a more pressing concern lurking in corridors of real-time pediatric medicine. The one-time silent killer of adults, seemingly older adults, is stalking our offspring with the diligence of a vulture chasing an injured zebra. Early in the fall of 2012 an alarming headline hit the top rung of the medical literature: "Hypertension Rockets in U.S. Kids." Naturally I suspected this would be the most cutting edge news story to hit the U.S. airwaves in months. A serial killer was on the loose and it was no longer targeting adults, it was now after our children. You can only imagine my compounded horror as I flipped to cnn.com to review the most popular newsfeeds for the day, if it were not a breaking news headline, this was sure to be something people would be talking about. Alas, the Octomom's new boyfriend and Jenny McCarthy's seventh Playboy spread had trumped kids with heart disease.
For those of you not fully understanding the impact of this finding and others like it, allow me to reiterate, this is a BIG DEAL. Heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension were historically reserved for de-conditioned adults with genetic predispositions, chomping away on a standard North American Diets (SAD diet). In the published findings of the June 18, 2012 edition of Hypertension, the authors cited that nation-wide, pediatric hypertension-related hospitalizations had nearly doubled, from 1997 to 2006. Charges for inpatient care for hypertensive children increased by 50 per cent, to an estimated $3.1 billion over the 10 years.
All economics aside, kids are suffering unnecessarily. This is the first generation predicted to have shorter, more disease-laden life spans than their parents. While we may view our personal food choices as our right, our children deserve more respect. What will it take for us, the adults, to step up to the plate and demand better? Something better means education around food consumption, something better means less accessibility to processed foods, something better means we teach kids to value their bodies, not simply pop a pill or supplement to make the symptom; the eczema, the headache or the hypertension go away.
Step up my adult and parental colleagues, challenge yourself to squeeze a few more minutes out of your day to prepare some real food, play with your kids outdoors and talk to the little people in your life about their most valuable asset on the road to success, their health.