Most parents know that they should be encouraging their children to eat healthily, but it is easier to say it than to do it. Junk food is everywhere, it is powerfully advertised, it is easy to prepare and consume, and it tastes good.
What is Junk Food?
The term junk food can mean whatever you want it to mean, but in the mouths of health professionals it means food that is low in nutritional value (especially fiber, natural vitamins and minerals, healthy oils like omega-3) and high in sugar, salt, trans fats, and saturated fats.
Somewhere in our evolution humans developed a taste for the things that dominate junk food, though it is not clear why we have such a passion for them. They are elements that our bodies need in some form, but left to our own devices we would quite happily eat nothing but them, and that is where the problem lies. In quantity they are simply not good for us, and they seem to reduce our appetite for the things that are good, especially fresh vegetables and fruit.
Who Gains from Junk Food?
It is not at all easy to make junk food from the natural ingredients that the human race survived on for thousands of years—it needs to be manufactured on an industrial scale. The corporations who produce it are, for the most part, multi-million dollar businesses. They make enormous profits from the trade which, not surprisingly, they want to be able to continue unrestricted.
Alongside the manufacturers, the advertising industry makes big money from the business. There is little doubt that advertising is effective. One study indicated that children exposed to TV content with food advertising consumed more than children without that exposure.
Who Loses from Junk Food?
Everyone for whom junk food is a major element in their diet is liable to be less healthy than those who mainly avoid it. Especially this is true for children, who are much more likely to be obese if they have a diet dominated by unhealthy eating. Older people are at greater risk from heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The nation as a whole also suffers through an over-indulgence in junk food. The cost in healthcare is difficult to estimate, but it seems clear that there is a correlation between what we as a nation eat and what we spend on healthcare.
When Is the Best Time to Start Healthy Eating?
Clearly the best time to get into the habit of eating healthily is in childhood, and parents have a big responsibility to their children in this respect. It is not easy, but there are ways to cope.
Try to keep control of exposure to TV advertising. It is reckoned that US children watch 20,000 – 40,000 commercials every year, half of which are advertising food products. Very few of those are for vegetables! If possible, be with your children when they are watching TV, and don’t let the claims made on the food commercials go unchallenged.
It is harder to do, but if your children use online media, try to get them to talk to you about the information they find there about food. The advertising industry is always at the forefront in using new technology.
Developing teeth are particularly at risk from food with a high sugar content. You may have a health insurance policy, but you may also want to consider a dental insurance plan such as that available from mydental.guardianlife.com.
It is obvious that the most important element in learning good habits is the food that you put on the table. It needs to be tasty as well as healthy, and there are plenty of cookbooks and websites to help you with recipes. When possible, involve the children in the food preparation and discuss with them the ways to make it more exciting.
You may want to consider whether you should allow an unhealthy option once or twice a week, as a way of preventing the issue becoming a point of contention in the family, or even an obsession for your children. This could happen if the only time they get to eat the things they see on the commercials is when they are away from home.
A Lifelong Journey
Healthy eating is a battle with temptation that for most people lasts a lifetime. The better the start that children can have, the better their chances of keeping on the right side of that battle. Healthy living is not just about healthy food, but it can certainly begin there.
Taylor Mills is a personal fitness trainer who recently gave birth to her first child. It’s changed her perspective slightly, and she’s now keen to teach fitness and healthy living to Moms more than ever so that they can pass good, healthy habits onto their kids. Her articles appear on health, lifestyle and Mom blogs.