Contributed by Shy-Anne N. Santos
Substantial number of research revealed the bad effects of junk foods to school children. Being aware of this, the Department of Education issued a department order banning the sale of junk food to school children. Instead, nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, porridge and other well-balanced food should be sold to school children at the school canteen.
According to Chowdharry, a nutritionist based in Dubai, the fats, sugar and salt in fast foods draw kids like a magnet, largely because they appeal to a child’s “primordial tastes”. “From an evolutionary point of view, humans are hard-wired to crave high-calorie food as a survival mechanism, so each time we see, smell or eat junk food, many chemicals and neurotransmitters are released in our body.
“When your child bites into a burger, his brain reward system gets activated since dopamine, which is the main neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and excitement, gets secreted. And then he will feel a complete lack of control and an intense demand from his brain for more,” adds Chowdhary.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to ditch the takeaway, a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a medical journal published by the American Medical Association, found that once children have eaten fast food, they consume more calories and fewer nutrients for the rest of the day. On days when kids ate fast food, compared with days when they ate at home, adolescents and young children consumed an additional 309 and 126 calories, respectively.
Experts have known for years that long-term consumption of junk food clogs arteries, but recently they’ve recognized that this damage begins the same day. A study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology indicates that damage to the arteries occurs almost immediately after just one – that’s right, one – junk food meal.
According to Chirine Watfa, a dietician, diet has a significant effect on children’s study habits. Junk food and foods with high-sugar content deplete energy levels and the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. “If a kid is having sweets, chocolate croissants or sweetened beverages during the first break time at school instead of his fruit portion or his sandwich, he would definitely feel hungry within an hour and that would disrupt his concentration in class, and could affect his overall performance in school.
In a study published in Child: Care, Health and Development, a European public health journal, researchers analyzed the fast-food consumption and test scores in math and reading of 12,000 fifth-graders. They found that children who ate fast food four to six times within a given week tested significantly lower in math and reading compared with children who did not.
Eating foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats, such as cold-water fish and nuts, leads to positive energy and moods – both of which are derived from positive brain function. A diet high in fast food lacks these nutritional benefits, increasing the risk of depression.
The artificial taste of junk food is thought to be addictive and children used to spicy junk food may have trouble adjusting their palates to relatively blander healthy foods. “Another problem is that junk food tends to replace other, more nutritious foods,” says Watfa. “When children are snacking on chips and cookies, they’re usually not having enough fruits and vegetables, which will decrease their vitamin C and fiber intakes.”
Fast food typically lacks fiber. The less fiber children consume, the more likely they are to develop constipation, which can cause abdominal pain and discomfort. Will they know about it by the end of the day? “The high content of sugar in junk food causes fluctuations in children’s blood glucose levels,” says Chowdhary. “This makes them edgy, sleepy and irritable throughout the day and leaves them with no motivation to be active.”
Having sugary drinks or fruit juice at dinner even twice a week can affect children’s sleep and wake-up cycle. The caffeine from sodas acts as a stimulant, keeping them awake longer and negatively affects their metabolism. “Studies have shown that moderate to high caffeine consumers [100 to 300mg of caffeine] have more disturbed and more interrupted sleep than low- or no-caffeine consumers,” says Watfa.
Chirine Watfa, Childcare, Health and Development a dietician at Health Factory,Dubai (www.healthfactory.com).