The most common nutritional disease of childhood is dental caries (cavities). In the United States, the average five-year-old has three cavities. Decayed and/or lost teeth can result in pain and discomfort, talking with a lisp, damage to the permanent teeth, and inability to chew normally. Not to mention big dental bills.
Almost all foods can contribute to dental caries. However, sweet foods are most often to blame.
Research has shown that the important factor is not how many sweets are eaten but rather how often they are eaten.
Eating sweet foods as snacks is more likely to result in tooth decay than eating them at meals because more saliva is produced at mealtime that helps, to some extent, wash away the sugary foods.
The type of food also affects the production of dental caries. Chewy, sticky foods tend to cause more cavities than comparable amounts of non-sticky sweet foods such as liquids.
In a recent study, on a typical school day, 40% of the children surveyed did not eat any vegetables; 20% did not eat any fruit; and 36% ate four different types of snack food. The snacks most commonly eaten by all the students were cookies (38%), ice cream (33%), soda (31%), chips (26%), and candy (18%). These foods have high amounts of fat, sugar, and sodium. Choosing them repeatedly as snacks or including them frequently in meals can lead to poor nutritional balance.
The young child’s preference for sweets is related to what parents do or do not allow, according to a Cornell University study of the habits of 122 children aged 36 to 64 months. Children whose parents ate sweets frequently were likely to eat sweets more often than those whose parents seldom ate sweets. Sweet eating was also related to the amount of television watched by the child as well as to the parents’ attitude toward giving the child sweets. Clearly it is “do as I do, vs. do as I say”, when it comes to eating.
In our dental practice we find that the majority of adults who have had very few cavities report that they simply did not eat much in the way of junk foods as kids. One of the best ways to deal with this is for the parents who drive the shopping cart to simply not buy junk foods. When family members get hungry between meals, if there are simply no junk foods to eat, that apple, bunch of grapes or hand full of carrots sure looks a lot better.
Elementary age children gain weight faster than height. Their body proportions begin to change as they get ready for their final growth spurt during adolescence. They need more nutrients than their adult parents. It is not just the calories. Eating between meals can lead to excessive weight gain because so many snack foods are high in fat and sugar. We call these types of foods “empty calories” because they have lots of sugar and fat, but little in the way of protein, vitamins and minerals that are needed for healthy growth and development.
Follow these guidelines to help your child learn weight-conscious snacking habits:
If your child shows a tendency for being overweight, encourage more physical activity and less television viewing. Do not cut back drastically on food intake. Growing children need those nutrients for growth and development.
Current research supports the claims that sugar and caffeine are often linked to hyperactivity, and lack of concentration both in school and at home. We were especially disappointed that the Governor of CT, Jodi Rell vetoed a bill that would have banned junk food vending machines in schools so it is up to the parents to make their voices heard at home as well as at the schools
A great tip is to get the kids involved in planning the meals and snacks. Encourage them to learn about eating healthy. Get them to count the number of times they eat sugary foods so that can choose wisely. Remember that since it is the frequency of sugar consumption more than the total quantity that causes cavities, 10 little candies eaten an hour apart are 10 X more decay causing than one scoop of ice cream, even though they might have the same amount of sugar.
Check your library for books that are age appropriate and cruise the internet for healthy eating. There are many great web sites that are fun and educational too.