By Dr. Mercola
The British BBC documentary above originally aired back in 2008. At the time, one in four preschool children in the UK were overweight or obese, closely matching childhood obesity rates in the United States.
According to the latest statistics,1 30 percent of British children between the ages of two and 15 are now overweight or obese.
Similarly, in the US, more than one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Eighteen percent of American children between the ages of six and 11 are in the obese category—up from seven percent in 1980.2 Five percent of American children are “severely obese,” which puts them at grave risk for chronic diseases typically reserved for adults, such as heart and liver disease.
One interesting fact is that, in contrast to third-world countries, in the US the poorest people have the highest obesity rates.
This seeming contradiction is, I believe, a clear indication that the problem stems from the diet itself. Something in the cheapest and most readily available foods is creating metabolic havoc.
In short, the obesity epidemic is a direct outgrowth of a diet of processed foods with their cheap non-nutritive fillers, artificial ingredients, and synthetic chemical additives (many of which are banned in other countries due to health effects).
Most importantly, virtually all processed foods are loaded with refined fructose, primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup—and in the US, most of it is genetically engineered (GE) to boot. This type of diet is a major factor in the recipe for obesity.
Obesity Is an Inevitable Outcome of a Processed Food Diet
Many parents, including those featured in this film, are confounded and befuddled about the cause of their child’s excess weight gain. The root of the problem becomes quickly recognizable when you start looking at the foods your child eats, and that includes baby food.
If you feed your child commercial infant formula, baby food, and/or miscellaneous fruit juices, you need to beware that you’re feeding your child enormous amounts of sugar, several times a day.
In fact, some baby foods contain as much sugar and saturated fats as chocolate cookies or cheeseburgers. One 2009 survey of more than 100 foods for babies and toddlers found examples that were 29 percent sugar, and others that contained trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease.
When a child starts out with a diet of processed fructose and trans fats, excessive weight gain is not a mystery outcome—it’s more or less an inevitability.
Parents need to wake up and face the reality that processed foods have dramatically changed over the years. The level of processing and chemical additives has increased exponentially and a majority of foods are now boxed or canned for your convenience.
Today’s pre-packaged convenience foods have been processed and altered to the point of being virtually unrecognizable, nutritionally, from the real deal.
The documentary features Paul Gately, a Professor of Exercise and Obesity at Leeds Metropolitan University, who organized Great Britain’s first weight loss camp for kids under the age of five. As Gately says, it’s important to get your child’s weight under control as early as possible, as obesity dramatically increases his or her risk of a wide variety of chronic diseases, including:
Are You Feeding Your Child Sugar All Day Long?
I disagree with the notion that young children are simply eating too many calories and not getting enough physical exercise. Toddlers have eaten heartily for many centuries without getting obese and sick. Again, the heart of the problem lies in the source of those calories.
If you want to give your baby the best start nutritionally, do not follow the advice in most baby books encouraging you to start your baby out on rice cereal—a refined carbohydrate. Other than breast milk or formula, rice is the number one source of calories for infants in the first year of life, according to Stanford University pediatrician Alan Greene, and this is nothing short of a nutritional disaster.
For many kids, it’s downhill from there. Refined fructose, typically in some form of corn syrup, is now found in virtually every processed food and fast food meal you can think of, and fructose actually “programs” your body to consume more calories and store fat.
Grains are another culprit, as they are quickly converted into sugar and then fat in your child’s body. These types of carbs (fructose and grains) affect the hormones insulin and leptin, both of which are very potent fat regulators. (Fats and proteins affect them to a far lesser degree.) So please don’t fall for the flawed notion that cereal is an ideal breakfast food. Two years ago, Kellogg had the gall to claim, on their web site, that “sugar does not cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease or hyperactivity.3” At the time, I commented that, was the truth to be accepted, they’d be fined for advertising fraud. Since then, they’ve removed that crazy statement, and now just urge you to “put sugar in perspective,” pointing out that:4
“Sugar in cereals — including kids cereals —contributes less than 5 percent of daily sugar intake. Yet it adds taste, texture and enjoyment to cereal, while encouraging the consumption of fiber, vitamins and minerals — essential nutrients that you and your kids might not otherwise get from any other meal.”
Their assertion is still ridiculous, as the nutrients your child really needs are found in whole fresh foods; not in a box of processed cereal loaded with sugar and synthetic chemical additives, but at least it’s not blatantly fraudulent like so many other food industry lies and deceptions.
Many Kids Are Hooked on Soda and Sugary Fruit Drinks
Many children also drink soda every day. Many also drink ‘fruit juices,’ some of which contained little, if any, actual fruit juice and hundreds of grams of sugar in a liter. Parents often believed that fruit drinks were healthy for their kids, and that is precisely what the manufacturers want them to believe. As recently reported in the Guardian Express,5 kids are 40 percent heavier today compared to just 25 years ago, and a growing number of studies have linked rising childhood obesity rates to increased consumption of sugary beverages (including those sweetened with no- or low-cal sweeteners).
As a general rule, the beverage industry has denied or strongly downplayed its role in the childhood obesity epidemic, despite the fact that beverage companies spend over $1 billion annually on youth-targeted marketing—especially in school settings. According to the Guardian Express, 80 percent of American schools have contracts with Coke or Pepsi to stock their products in school vending machines. It’s an untenable position, really. Clearly, marketing WORKS, or else they wouldn’t be doing it, and when ads target an audience of 2- to 17-year-olds, it’s hardly an accident that kids in that age range opt for soda whenever they’re given a choice.
Children Are Also at Increased Risk from GMO Side Effects
In the US, parents also have to contend with the fact that a vast majority of corn-based fructose is genetically engineered and heavily contaminated with the toxic herbicide glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. Experts like Dr. Don Huber strongly believe that glyphosate is actually more toxic than DDT.
Compelling evidence now suggests that glyphosate residues, found in most commonly consumed foods in the Western diet courtesy of GE sugar, corn, soy and wheat, enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease. Glyphosate also severely disrupts your gut flora, thereby further exacerbating metabolic havoc and poor health.
Other genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can also be found in infant formulas, and no one really knows what the health risks of such ingredients might be, especially long-term. It’s important to remember that pound for pound, infants experience greater exposure to chemicals than adults, and have immature and porous blood-brain barriers, which allow greater chemical exposures to reach their developing brains. Hence an all-organic diet is really crucial for infants and young children.
Breastfeeding Is the Healthy Start Your Baby Needs
Breastfeeding is clearly the best option. Besides lacking the full arsenal of critical nutrients obtained from breast milk, many infant formulas also contain far too much sugar (your baby doesn’t need any). But it’s not just a matter of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats that makes breast milk far superior to formula. Breast milk also contains substances that may significantly enhance your baby’s gut and support the healthy development of her entire nervous system.
If you are unable to breastfeed, you may want to consider the option of purchasing human breast milk, which is becoming a hot commodity online. Nursing women are now selling their extra milk to other families, many of whom are pairing up online via Craigslist and other classified sites. This trend harkens back to ancient times when wet nurses (women who breastfeed babies other than their own) were used. For more about this option and some cautions, please refer to this article on the sale of breast milk.
Please avoid feeding your baby soy based formula, as it can contain dangerously high concentrations of manganese and estrogenic compounds. Aside from GMOs, infant formulas have also been found to be contaminated with a variety of problematic chemicals over the years, including:
- Perchlorates (a component of rocket fuel)
- Advanced glycoprotein end products (AGEs)
How to Introduce Solid Foods
Outside of breast milk, the best foods you can give your baby are those you prepare for your family fresh at home. Store-bought versions just cannot compare nutritionally, as they frequently contain unhealthy ingredients your baby is far better off without. When your baby is ready to start eating solid foods, introduce new foods one at a time at intervals of two to three days. This helps your baby get used to the food, and will also help you reveal any food sensitivities or allergies. Small serving sizes, even just a spoonful or two, are best to start.
As your infant gets older you can progress from pureed whole foods to finger foods she can feed herself, but be sure they are chopped small enough so they are not a choking hazard. Raisins, nuts, popcorn and other small foods should not be given to young infants due to the choking risk. For some simple baby food recipes and ideas for homemade solids, see this previous article.
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is also a great way to establish long-term healthy attitudes to food among children. For more information, please see the article, The What, Why, and How of Baby-Led Weaning.
Your Child’s Healthy Diet Is Up to You
Children will simply not know which foods are healthy unless you, as a parent, teach it to them. Remember, wholesome food is “live” and typically raw food, and the hallmark of live food is the fact that it will wilt and decompose. The fact that fast food burgers, buns, and fries do not decompose, even after a decade, is a clear sign that it’s just not real food and serves no beneficial purpose as part of your child’s diet.
It’s very simple: kids need real nutrients, not man-made chemicals that are nonexistent in natural food! These substitutes are NOT equivalent to the real deal.
Food is a part of crucial lifestyle choices first learned at home, so you need to educate yourself about proper nutrition and the dangers of junk food and processed foods in order to change the food culture of your entire family. To give your child the best start at life, and help instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime, you must lead by example. If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend reading my nutrition plan first. This will provide you with the foundation you need to start making healthy food choices for your family.
The simplest way back toward health, for children and adults alike, is to focus on WHOLE foods — foods that have not been processed or altered from their original state; food that has been grown or raised as nature intended, without the use of chemical additives, pesticides and fertilizers. You, a family member, or someone you pay will need to invest time in the kitchen cooking fresh wholesome meals from these whole foods so that you can break free from the processed food diet that will ultimately make you sick.
By doing this, and eating meals together as a family, your children will receive the proper nutrition their bodies need during the important developmental years while also developing a love for whole fresh foods that will last them a lifetime.