We look at disease prevention not only as immunizing children against infectious diseases, but also as reducing the risk for certain chronic diseases found almost exclusively in adults. A whole new era in the care of children is beginning, the era of focusing on what researchers call pediatric antecedents of adult disease – the link between childhood nutrition and chronic illness in later years.
We now know that many of the symptoms of disease associated with adulthood make their first appearance in childhood – and it is in childhood that steps need to be taken to effectively diagnose, treat, and possibly prevent these diseases.
Our new, groundbreaking research shows that many of the diseases we all associate with old age – heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, hypertension, cancer, and diabetes – actually begin during childhood, and that poor nutrition and the development of unhealthy eating habits take their toll later in life. We now know that early stages of many of these chronic diseases can be detected in children. Decades of painstaking research and testing have shown that the buildup of plaque deposits in arteries, just to cite an example, is apparent in young people who are consuming a typical American diet loaded with fat. Feeding children right in the years when their young bodies are growing and organs and tissues are developing is the best way to shield them from many of the diseases that won’t show up as symptoms until much later in life.
How does nutrition in children play a role in preventing some of the most serious chronic diseases seen in adults?
We now recognize that because of the diets our children consume, some of these diseases may begin in early childhood or infancy – even in the womb. More importantly, we now know that our intervention can affect the progress of those diseases and perhaps change the course of our children’s lives.
Family Nutrition has been my major interest for all of my professional life.
We now know that a child who is obese at age four has a greater than 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult if nothing is done to prevent it. Childhood obesity is a very special kind of obesity. Studies have found that it’s much more difficult to treat obese adults who were obese as children than obesity that develops after childhood. It stands to reason then that if we wish to prevent the complications of obesity in many adults, we must prevent it from occurring during childhood. And if it hasn’t been treated in early childhood, we must take action and begin to treat it immediately.
Not only is obesity striking at an earlier age, but we’re also seeing the beginnings of heart disease earlier in children.
Important changes in our children’s diets and eating patterns can also lessen their risk for cancer. We know that certain types of diets offer protection against various cancers and that the longer these diets are consumed the greater the protection. Rather than consuming more or less of a simple nutrient, protection from cancer requires altering our children’s dietary patterns.
I hope by now you understand that we have it within our power to protect our children from some of the most devastating diseases of old age. And I hope you understand that by feeding our children the right foods and helping them to develop healthy eating patterns, we offer them the most precious of gifts – the best chance for a long life, free of disease. It does take resolve, but by taking control of our children’s future health now, it’s not hard to imagine them enjoying life for six, seven, or even eight decades down the road. I call this new resolve, love.
And that is what my passionate plea to parents is all about. I’m asking all of you to take this information seriously. The link between childhood nutrition and adult disease is real, and the findings here are critically important to your entire family.
Finally, of all the writing projects with which I’ve been involved that deal with nutrition in general and nutrition in children specifically.