Saturday, November 11, 2006
From The State Journal-Register Springfield, IL
One day it's Halloween candies. The next it's Thanksgiving feasts and holiday pastries, a continuous trickle of treats.
It is enough to throw a real scare into nutritional watchdogs that have children's best interests at heart.
Add the abundance of fast-food eateries and the promoted convenience foods, and the path to adulthood is littered with more mine fields than a combat zone.
The results are reflected in childhood obesity rates, which already approach 20 percent nationally. Compounding the problem are reductions in school physical education programs, which in many cases are an afterthought, if not an anachronism.
Yet amid the doom and gloom are encouraging signs. Among them is that healthier cafeteria fare has become a national priority. Federal and state governments are tightening nutrition regulations and banning junk food and sodas from campuses.
Providing further impetus is a burgeoning children's supplement industry. While no substitute for well-balanced diets, prudently designed formulations can provide nutritional insurance for kids who would no more eat fruits and vegetables than give up video games.
In her role as a sounding board for concerned parents for Henry's Farmers Markets, certified nutritionist Janet Little helps navigate many people in what is considered unchartered territory.
"With children's bodies growing so quickly, cells multiplying so fast, it is wise to use a simple multivitamin," Little said.
"Proper nutrition can give a child a real advantage. Sadly, most children, with parents not having time to cook, are eating all processed foods."
Many such foods are high in saturated and trans fats, which can damage membranes in the cells.
Fortunately, the resilience of youth is designed to withstand such abuse.
"Bodies respond wonderfully to healthy eating and changes in lifestyle," Little said. "But the more prolonged the damage, the harder it is to reverse."
Fueling the proliferation of vitamins is the notion that certain concentrated nutrients can promote brain health and development.
"In the past 10 years, there's been an explosion in children's vitamins," Little said. "They've grown 100-fold in that time, many targeting brain health."
Children's vitamins range from liquid multivitamins designed for toddlers to chewable varieties and soft gels, some of which come in ice-cream-like flavors. The potencies generally are scaled down to an eighth or a fourth of an adult dosage.
Since deficiencies in such essential fatty acids as omega-3 and omega-6 have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, manufacturers are quick to recommend a variety of choices in soft gel and liquid form.
Omega-3, a fish oil often taken by adults, is packaged more creatively for kids. Its occasional fishy taste is disguised by chocolate mint or other flavors.
A typical method for adults would be 1,000 milligrams to be taken three times a day. For children 4 and older, the suggested amount is 640 milligrams once or twice a day, Little said.
While not all experts recommend vitamins for children, most agree that a daily supplement can't hurt as long as the formulation doesn't exceed the recommended daily allowance for any ingredient.
"When parents ask about one brand or another, I tell them, 'Whatever the child will take,'" Little said.
If the child has health issues, however, it's best to consult with a physician before using vitamins.
Diet is always the first line of defense. Eliminating refined flours and sugars is a good place to start.
"It doesn't make sense to eat horribly and take vitamins to make up for it," Little said. "It's not going to work."
Find nutritional supplements you can trust at Life Extension Products.