The negative effects that childhood obesity can have on a person in adulthood are manifold: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease are all things that overweight children are more prone to suffering when they get older. Unfortunately these facts haven’t really served to impact the skyrocketing trend of childhood obesity for the better – in fact, over the past 30 years the number of children who are considered overweight has tripled. Since 1980 the percentage of obese children aged 6-11 has increased from 7% to 20% in 2008; the percentage of 12 to 19 year-olds has likewise increased from 5% to 18% in the same period.
There have been scores of studies that link these statistics to sedentary lifestyles, but more often than not these staggering numbers are attributed to diet – more specifically to the widespread consumption of fast food among our country’s youth. As opposed to an occasional meal on the go, fast food has almost entirely replaced the diets of some of these children, which necessarily deprives them of the essential nutrients that their growing bodies need to develop healthily. And as the obese child population increases, so does the list of complications that result from such an unhealthy lifestyle.
A recent study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Thorax suggests that the surge in these fast food diets can be linked to asthma and eczema. Surveying over 180,000 children ages four to seven and nearly 320,000 13 and 14 year olds the study showed a heavy correlation between the consumption of fast food meals at least three times each week and a child’s likelihood of experiencing severe asthma and eczema. Conversely, the study indicated that those who consumed fruit three or more times each week had a discernible connection with decreased risk of asthma. Although these things to not suggest a proven cause and effect relationship, the survey of almost half a million children around the world produced some pretty startling results.
Researchers sent the nearly 500,000 surveys out to randomly selected families that asked families to fill out a form inquiring about each child’s diet. The questionnaires were filled out by the children, whose parents then helped complete the surveys. Families were asked how about the average weekly consumption of 15 food categories ranging from protein, milk, fruit and vegetables to butter and fast food. Additionally, the families were given a form detailing some of the symptoms that children with asthma, eczema and rhinoconjuctivitis (runny nose/eyes) typically demonstrate. Once the forms were filled out, the researchers looked for associations between the dietary habits of the children and the characteristic symptoms of these three allergic conditions.
The study showed that foods like fruit, vegetables and milk were likely associated with protecting a child against these allergy-related illnesses. On the other hand, increased risk of both mild and severe forms of asthma, eczema and rhinoconjuctivitis was seen in the participants who reportedly had a fast-food heavy diet (three or more times each week). Additionally, fast food consumption was seen to exacerbate existing allergic conditions in this particular population.
Research on this subject is still new, and researchers agreed that further studies would need to be conducted if they are to definitively verify fast food’s effect on allergy-related illness in children. Nevertheless, with such an extraordinarily large sample it is likely that further examination of this subject will produce similar results. And regardless, we shouldn’t need a detailed scientific study to tell us that the dietary decisions that we make for our children are crucial in helping them toward a healthier future. Consult a Frisco pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s health and ask your physician how you can improve your children’s diets and model a positive dietary lifestyle for them.
Photo Attribution: @heylovedc