Chronic health conditions in children are rising
Poor food choices, allergy-based food avoidance and misguided parental food education frequently result in a child’s sub-optimal nutritional status. For example, in 2014-15, only 5.4% of Australian children aged 2-18 years ate the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
Add to this, environmental toxin exposure, stress in the home and increasing availability of convenience foods coupled with inactivity, and we are seeing rising levels of chronic health conditions in children, along with higher levels of anxiety, neuro-developmental conditions, food intolerances, allergies, and eczema.
Over the last century, the emphasis in children’s health has moved from infectious diseases to chronic health conditions. Medical statistics in Australia show that 13-27% of children are affected by chronic conditions.
The most common chronic conditions seen in children include:
- cystic fibrosis,
- developmental disorders,
- mental illnesses,
- cancers, and
- low birthweight/prematurity-related disorders including lung and eye disease.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report that in 2002, revealed the most common chronic health conditions in children being asthma (at 31%), with the remainder suffering respiratory conditions, and diseases of the ears and nervous system.
Chronic conditions place increased stressed on the child, but also the parents, siblings and extended family. In addition, children with any chronic condition are twice as likely to develop mental health disorders.
Factors that impact on your child’s health
- Prescription medications
- OTC medications
- Environmental exposures
- Sedentary behaviour
- Oral microbiome
A 2013 Australian study identified that medications dispensed to 0-12 year-olds equated to 101,707 children receiving 383,515 antibiotic medications.
Other OTC medications given to children included:
- Decongestants – varying effect on symptoms, parents often use them for their sedative properties but can have the opposite effect. A safer option may be herbal or homeopathic remedies.
- Antitussives or cough medicines – regular ones contain opioids whereas herbal remedies are safe as well as effective.
- Paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin – often promoted as safe in children, these should be avoided in those aged under 12 years of age as they can cause lasting gut imbalances and liver damage.
- Teething gels – commonly contain salicylic acid, lignocaine, tannic acid, menthol, thymol, glycerol and up to 40% ethanol. There are a number of good homeopathic gels available that work and don’t contain any toxic chemicals.
- Fungal creams and topical steroids – often ineffective as a remedy and often suppress the problem.
- Rehydrating fluids which are high in sugar, artificial colours. A safer and more efficient option would include a mineral-rich formulation.
- Anticolic preparations – establishing the reason of chronic colic and seeking treatment, such as structural alignment often provides permanent relief or assessing for food/formula intolerances.
- Reflux medications – affect nutrient absorption, imbalance gut bacteria, create conditions for fungal and bacterial infections and are possibly the most dangerous.
Our modern toxic world
Common chemical exposures during early life, include outdoor air pollutants, toxic heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic), organochlorine compounds (PCBs, dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane/dichloroethylene – DDT/DDE, hexachlorobenzene – HCB, dioxins), perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), currently used pesticides (particularly organophosphates), phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA). Exposure to these chemicals is wide-spread globally, through air, water, and food contamination, and many consumer goods including plastics and cosmetics.
The impact of environmental toxins on neurodevelopment include:
- Prenatal exposure to air pollution (particulate matter) correlated to autism diagnoses.
- Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was linked to decreases in cognitive function, increases in behavioural problems and changes in brain structure detected by MRI.
- Heavy metals – lead, methylmercury, aluminium and arsenic have long been considered as neurotoxins. Meta-analyses have shown that children’s blood lead concentrations, even those below 10mcg/dL, are inversely associated with IQ.
- Increasing evidence that lead and mercury exposure is linked to ADHD and autism; cadmium and arsenic have a detrimental effect on cognitive development.
- Prenatal or early postnatal exposure to PCBs are associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes and behaviour.
- For DDE (a breakdown product of DDT), there were significant associations for early infancy psychomotor development and ADHD symptoms.
- Significant concerns about the link between persistent organic pollutants (POPs), especially polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and autism.
- Association between prenatal Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) exposure and lower language and social development scores at 24 months, and lower IQ scores at age 5 years.
- Consistent evidence from over 20 studies for an association between prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and reduced IQ scores and other measures of mental and psychomotor development in children; reduced brain morphology as measured by MRI and links with ADHD and autism.
- Link between higher prenatal exposure to phthalates and poor cognitive development.
The rise in childhood obesity
The increasing rates of overweight and obese children has been linked, not only to poor food choices and sedentary behaviour, but also environmental toxins. “Environmental obesogens” include substances/chemicals with the ability to interfere with endocrine (hormone) and metabolic systems changing growth patterns, and inducing weight gain, obesity, and obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Prenatal DDE exposure has consistently been found to be associated with accelerated weight gain in infancy, accelerated postnatal BMI trajectories, and higher risk of childhood obesity.
The microbiome – both in the gut and in the mouth – play a vital role in children’s health. The mouth can be the origin of periodontal and systemic diseases such as cardiovascular, respiratory, immune, metabolic, osteopathic, and obstetric complications. A healthy gut microbiome has been repeatedly shown to help support a healthy immune system, support digestion and metabolic functions.
Children and youth in developed nations spend an estimated 40 to 60% of their time in sedentary pursuits, such as watching TV or playing passive video games.
This has increased substantially over the decades, and also increases with age. Girls and boys accumulate 7.4 and 8.5 hours of sedentary time everyday with most of that occurring a school. Sedentary behaviour is an independent risk factor for excess weight gain in children.
Television viewing and video game playing are associated with risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, respectively, independent of physical activity in overweight and obese adolescents. Self-reported TV viewing at age 16 is prospectively associated with the risk for metabolic syndrome at 43 years of age.
Getting sufficient nutrients
We live in an age of abundance yet are seeing increasing incidents of malnutrition. This is due to insufficient consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits but also due to the marked increase of eating processed foods and take-aways. Processed foods are deficient in nutrients while being high in artificial additives, sugar and often containing GMO ingredients.
Fussy eating can be considered a normal phase of development, however more long-term and severe fussiness can have adverse effects on the healthy growth and development of a child.
Around one third of Australian children are believed to be fussy eaters, with the peak age of prevalence approximately three years. Fussy eating can lead to insufficient energy intake, resulting in some children becoming underweight; while others are drawn to more processed, energy-dense foods, resulting in high energy intake and a risk of becoming overweight or developing mental health problems.
In 2014-15, 68.1% of children aged 2-18 years met the guidelines for recommended daily serves of fruit, while 5.4% met the guidelines for serves of vegetables.
Only one in twenty (5.1%) children met both guidelines. On average, children aged 2-18 years consumed 2 serves of fruit and 1.9 serves of vegetables each day in 2014-15.
Some explanations for this rise in “fussy eaters” has been linked to:
- allowing children to choose what they want to eat,
- feeding children separately from the rest of the family,
- families not gathering at the dinner table and eating together,
- babies and toddlers not being exposed to a variety of foods, flavours and textures as experienced with fresh, whole foods and which are absent in commercially produced “baby foods”,
- mental and behavioural issues (as mentioned earlier in this report).
This information can be overwhelming and make you want to live in the hills away from civilisation but mostly that is not possible.
By ensuring nutrient status via diet and supplementing with quality multivitamin/mineral, probiotics if necessary, we can provide the best form of protection: Giving the body the ingredients it needs to protect itself, while avoiding exposures to chemicals and toxins as much as possible.
Always consult a qualified Naturopath. Never self-prescribe supplements and avoid purchasing products on line – you have no guarantee of purity or quality.