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Junk Food and Kids: Could It Be Making Childhood Illnesses Worse?

We are all familiar nowadays with the fact that we ought to avoid junk food for kids as it tends to have high salt and high fat content.  Eve Pierce, health writer, tells us about new research now pointing to the fact that junk food may be triggering childhood illnesses as well. 

Giving our kids access to a good diet that is varied and nutritious is something that all of us as Mums want to do, purely to give them the best start and make sure that they can fight off common illnesses or viruses quickly when they do, inevitably, appear.

Of course, it’s important to balance all the good stuff with treats every now and then, but as a report published in independent.ie shows, some of these foods may possibly end up triggering childhood conditions that are more serious than the occasional sniffle.

Study into eating habits

junk_food_burger_and_chipsThe report refers to a study carried out by a group of scientists at Auckland University in New Zealand, into the eating habits of youngsters up to the age of fourteen. This major work actually took in over fifty countries across the globe including the UK and Ireland and had in excess of five hundred thousand respondents who took part.

  • Of the children surveyed, it was found that those who ate junk food three or more times a week had an almost forty percent higher chance of beginning with asthma than children who did not. Also, the younger respondents to the survey were almost thirty percent more likely to contract asthma.
  • Children were also increasingly likely to suffer from the painful skin condition eczema too, or begin with rhino-conjunctivitis.
  • The study began by asking children about their dietary habits, the foods they ate and what they liked to actually eat. They found out how much fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and carbohydrates they ate and also asked them about the types of junk foods they liked to eat. Following on from this, the scientists then asked the children if they had or had developed any allergy symptoms that they could recognise or if they felt unwell after eating any particular food.
  • The scientists believed that simply reducing the amount of junk food the child eats and increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet by three portions a week might actively help to combat the development of all three of these conditions. Their estimates are that fourteen percent of the younger respondents would see improvements in their conditions and eleven percent of the elder teen participants would as well.

Related: How Much Sugar Are We Really Consuming? and Eats, Treats & Labels

Asthma and Eczema in Ireland

According to irishhealth.com as many as twenty percent of children in Ireland at the present time suffer from asthma, with many children under the age of five suffering from wheezing or breathing difficulties which are later diagnosed as being asthma.

Allergic asthma, in which a child may get symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or struggling for breath after coming into contact with allergens is the most common form of the condition and can be brought on by dust or pollutants in the atmosphere as well as by consuming certain foods.

It’s also estimated that up to two hundred and twenty thousand children could also be suffering from Eczema throughout the country and, just as with Asthma; there may be many others who are as yet, undiagnosed. It is thought that the main kinds of food triggers for eczema are things like eggs, wheat and cow’s milk, which although are generally healthy, can also crop up in processed ready meals and junk foods too.

What can we, as mums, do to help?

It’s really important to remember that occasionally eating some chocolate or a burger and chips really won’t do any harm at all and as part of a good diet treats are fine. There are a few ideas you can try if you’re still concerned or perhaps have a fussy child that is reluctant to try healthier stuff.

#1. Healthier snacks kept handy

applesHave a think about between meals grazing and the sorts of things that your kids might like to eat.

Sweets could be replaced with dried tropical fruits, which have a nice sweet taste but are filling. Instead of crisps, perhaps try a piece of cheddar cheese and crackers.

Small pots of fromage frais and little pieces of fruit, like grapes or apple slices can be really good to offer too.

#2. Don’t totally ban junk food

This is really only going to end up making it seem more attractive to kids. Make it something that you don’t necessarily have at home, but have on a special occasion at a restaurant as a treat, or at a birthday party. If they see you eating healthy snacks and meals they might end up more curious to try what Mum is eating too.

#3. Make your own versions of junk food

If it’s still hard to sway them, then have a think about ways in which you could make the foods they like, but in a healthier way and if possible, try to get them involved not only in the cooking, but the shopping too.

  • Burger and chips could be made at home by combining some lean mince with a little chopped onion, shaping into patties and either cooking in the oven or frying in a small amount of olive oil.   Here’s Clodagh McKenna’s Mini Burgers recipe.
  • Make potato wedges by cutting potatoes into thick chunks and oven cooking with a little oil and some seasoning.

Eve Jones is a freelance health writer working with healthcare professionals and medical companies to deliver useful and current health information online.

Related : Tips to Ensure Fussy Eaters get their 5-a-Day & Top Tips for Fussy Eaters

Have you noticed any triggers in your child’s health from them eating junk food?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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