Junk food for kids a child abuse

Dr. Faisal Khan
MBBS, SMLE, MPH, MCPS, MRCPCH-UK (Scholar), Al-Dar Hospital Madina Munawara, Saudi Arabia.

For busy moms, just trying to fill hungry little bellies of their kids, Junk foods offers a quick-and-easy solution, but very rarely they think, do these foods really provide a healthy alternative to nutritious meals cooked by them in kitchen as a responsible mother? During the past few years, fast foods, carbonated soft drinks, packed potato chips, crackers, crunchies, toffees, chocolates, doughnuts, pizzas, burgers, french fries, etc have penetrated every corner of our society.

These all junk foods are always available in school & college canteens. whenever we step out of our house with kids, we can see them being served everywhere from corner shops, patrol pumps, filling stations, shopping malls, food courts, restaurants and roadside markets, even in hospital canteens. Medically it is proved that these junk foods are not good even for adult’s health, but much more dangerous and harmful for kids’ health. Here is the question, that why we call them junk food? The word ‘junk’ basically refers to something that is unserviceable, hopeless, useless and extra, so most of fast foods really deserve to call them as junk food.

The consequences of these junk foods on kids’ health are terrible, irrespective of whether we allow our kids to eat these foods once in a month, twice in a week or every day. Over the past few decades people become incredibly busy in their professional and social lives, so most of parents feel that it is time-consuming and complicated to make healthy food at home. As per latest research junk foods can cause memory and learning problems in growing age kids.

These foods can increase the risk of dementia, lessens ability to control appetite, can cause chemical changes which can lead to depression in kids. These foods make them impatient and can cause uncontrollable cravings, impaired digestion, increase the risk of heart & kidney diseases in children.

Junk foods are playing a crucial role in deteriorating the health of toddlers. These foods are the major reason behind fatigue & laziness in kids, although junk food and fast food makes them feel full and satisfied, but these junks lack all the necessary nutrients like proteins and carbohydrates to keep their body energized and healthy. If kids eat junk food then every time they feel hungry, they may feel chronically fatigued.

It can lower their energy levels to an extent that it may become difficult for them to even perform daily tasks at their schools. Junks food also may cause depression in youngsters, so many hormonal changes take place in teenagers which makes them susceptible to mood swings and behavioural changes. As we know a healthy diet plays a vital role in sustaining that hormonal balance. Because junk food lack those essential nutrients, the possibility of teenagers to suffer from depression is increased by 48 percent in urban areas and 24 percent in rural areas.

These junks are the responsible for rising prevalence of impaired digestion in kids. Children who are addicted to oily, fatty, over salted or sugary junk foods have certain digestive problems like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That’s because junk food is deep fried. So, the oil from the junk food gets deposited in the stomach causing acidity. They cause irritation of the stomach lining because they are heavily spicy or too much sugary specially for kids, and they also lack fibre which is important for proper digestion.

Almost all types of junk foods are served with sugary carbonated beverages. Research shows that too much added sugar can increase kidney disease risk in kids. Having consistently high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the delicate blood vessels in kidneys of toddlers. This can lead to an increased risk of kidney disease, moreover a sever negatively impact on their dental health because eating & drinking too much sugar can cause cavities.

Junk food also causes fluxes & fluctuations in blood sugar levels, as this type of food is high in refined sugar which puts children’s metabolism under stress. Refined sugar causes the pancreas to secrete more quantity of insulin in order to avoid a drastic spike in blood sugar levels. Because junk food lacks necessary levels of good carbohydrates and proteins, the levels of blood sugar drop suddenly after very short period of time.

This makes them feel irritable, short-tempered and further increases their craving for more junk food. It also affects the brain function in offspring, as per recent research that one week of eating junk food is enough to trigger memory impairment. Research suggests that bad fats (trans fats) from junk food tends to replace healthy fats in the brain and interferes with its normal signalling mechanism. Studies also shown that fats from junk food slow down the ability to learn new skills.

Junk food increases the risk of heart disease in toddlers. It increases cholesterol and triglyceride levels which are major risk factors to develop heart diseases. Moreover, fats from junk food accumulate over the time in body to make our kids obese. The more weight they put on, the higher their risk of suffering from heart attack even in early young age. It also can cause kidney diseases.

The reason why children can never say no to fries and chips is because they contain high amount of finely processed salt which increases salivation and secretion of enzymes that boosts their cravings for more junk food. High amount of bad fats and sodium from salt increases blood pressure and affects their kidney function. Moreover, it also can damage their liver. High levels of trans fats found in a number of junk food can cause deposition of fats in the liver, which can cause liver dysfunction even in the children less than 9 years of age.

When kids eat healthy diet, cooked in kitchen by their mother, their body gets a steady supply of glucose which helps to maintain insulin sensitivity. But when they eat only junk food, the excessive stress exerted on their metabolism can affect the ability of their growing bodies to use insulin properly. This situation can cause type 2 diabetes in kids. I would like to mention here an incident, while I was working as a registrar in paediatrics department of Rehman Medical Institute Peshawar.

I received a call from emergency doctor to see a child who presented to ER. That 9 years old child was suffering from abdominal pain, vomiting, excessive fatigue, frequent urination, excessive thirst, increased hunger, darkened skin & impaired memory. After lab tests child was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he was a single male child of one upper middle-class family from the city of Mardan. While digging out history we found child was badly addicted to junk foods. This type of incidents enough for us to learn a lesson that junk food for kids is a child abuse.