I Wish More Parents and Grandparents Realized This
Before I dive too deep into this topic, please understand something.
I didn’t write this email to guilt trip anyone.
Imparting guilt on my readers is never my desire, I only want to make sure people have all the tools and as much information as needed to help lead healthy lives.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article on insect repellent for children and it prompted some emails from patients and newsletter subscribers about other things parents and grandparents can do to positively affect children’s health.
And one of the most popular requests was that I write an article covering ways parents and grandparents could be putting their children’s health in danger.
Let’s be on the level here. Parents and grandparents are responsible for a child’s health.
Until they’re 18 and out of the house, parents and grandparents are the individuals choosing what kids eat and what hidden health dangers they may be exposed to.
And so I created a list of things parents and grandparents can do to help protect their children from a future life of disease.
There’s nothing to buy here.
And I’m not putting anything on this list that is especially difficult.
I understand too, that certain circumstances and situations may require departures from these “rules.”
This isn’t meant to be a rigid system of unbendable instructions.
Instead, I created this to serve as guideposts to a life of amazing health, so the children you love today will be healthy decades into the future.
5 Things Parents and Grandparents Can Do To Improve Children's Health
As I mentioned, everything in here is practical. And while they are practical, they may be difficult to implement if it requires a change in lifestyle.
At the risk of sounding preachy, all I can say is anything worth having is worth fighting for.
Which is why I suggest approaching this list understanding these are battle plans you can use to fight a war against a world that’s trying to make children sick.
You are the leader of the army, and these are the blueprints for victory.
1 - Avoid Sugary Foods and Drinks:
In my estimation, many of the diseases and conditions young adults deal with today are the result of a bad diet when they were younger.
And when I say “bad diet,” I’m referring to one filled with all kinds of sugary foods, snacks, and drinks.
Sugar in any form is dangerous when our kids consume it in excess. The problem is sugar is incredibly tasty and instantly satisfying, and it’s cheap, so it makes its way into our house like a rat finds its way into a dumpster.
We use (I include myself in this because I’m not perfect) these foods to quiet kids and hold them over until dinner, but we do so to the detriment of our children’s futures.
It’s for this reason I suggest banishing almost all forms of sugar from your homes. Start with sodas and juices. These are the most easily obtained sources of sugar and the ones research shows is responsible for most dietary intake.
After that, I’d suggest eliminating many of the processed sugary snacks in the chip aisle, the cereal aisle, along with the dessert aisle.
From there, you’ll need to whittle away at the smaller treats you pick up for occasional indulgences.
This Is A BIG ASK, I understand that. You should expect the process of eliminating sugary foods and drinks to take months of work, because it’s difficult to go cold turkey.
As the amount of sugary foods present in the home decreases I suggest finding replacement recipes to provide your children with substitutes that resemble their favorite foods. That would mean baking cookies made of paleo flour and sweetened with stevia, or making sweet potato fries as opposed to going to McDonald’s.
Do this and you’ll discover your kids or grandkids are losing weight, are more attentive, and will be healthier than their peers.
2 - Limit Screen Time:
If you have teenagers who are addicted to a screen already, or small children who can’t peel their eyes away from screens, you’re going to find this is a difficult assignment.
But, in my estimation, and based on some of the research I’ve read, it’s easily one of the most important from helping improve your children’s health.
The dangers of screens are myriad.
First, the use of screens often causes our children to remain sedentary, which is a risk factor for a number of diseases. When children sit around for hours on end on iPads or playing video games, they’re not getting the exercise they need to promote good health.
Secondly, screens are damaging to social relationships. Addiction to video games can stunt a child’s social development, and the use of screens by preteens and teens can be damaging to their mental health because there’s ample opportunity for them to be bullied while online.
There’s also the danger screens pose to ocular health.
The blue light emitted by screens is linked to vision damage. Just a few hours a day staring at a screen can lead to permanent damage. Spending 7-10 hours staring at a screen (like some teenagers do) could cause irreversible damage early on.
My suggestion is children under 5 years get as little screen time as possible.
Little to none. I realize that sometimes you need to give them your phone so they can watch a video while you finish something, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it since this creates an expectancy that may lead to too much screen time in the future.
3 - Careful with Chemicals:
Chemicals in the home are a major risk factor for the development of some diseases and conditions.
Manmade cleaning chemicals, chemical-based cleaning products along with chemicals found in shampoos, soaps, as well as food have the power to disrupt a child’s health early on.
Processed foods and additives manufacturers prepare them with are now linked to some of the deadliest diseases known to man.
And hundreds of studies link cleaning supplies made with artificial chemicals to hormone disruption, for development of cancer and birth defects.
While it’s impossible to keep your home 100% chemical free (or, almost impossible) my suggestion is to research the dangers of products you regularly use and evaluate if you want them to be around your children.
Take fabric softener, for instance.
You’d think a product with a cuddly little bear on the side would be 100% safe to use. Sadly, fabric softeners are linked to chromosomal damage in developing fetuses. All thanks to a class of chemicals companies include to enhance scent.
Try to use natural alternatives as often as possible, and when you’re forced to use chemical agents for cleaning, or in toiletries, keep the kids away from them if you can.
4 - Let Them Play
This is a personal opinion informed by new research on the dangers of helicopter parenting.
Over the past few decades parenting advice has charged parents with depriving children of autonomy.
In an effort to shield them from danger, we’ve actually created children who aren’t capable of dealing with the world around them.
There’s plenty of research behind this, but I’d suggest that many of you already suspected this to be true.
This is why you should let children play. Not only does it help with their emotional and social well-being, it’s also great for their physical well-being (a necessary factor for total health). When children play it activates centers in their mind that help them navigate the world around them. They also engage their muscular and skeletal system in ways they can’t when they’re stuck at a desk, or sitting in front of a TV.
Playing outside is also positive as it helps them get exposure to the sun for vitamin D, they’re exposed to microbes and bacteria that help to boost immune function, helps with visual processing skills and more.
As a society we really should be letting our kids play more.
In fact, we should be encouraging it. Sure, it might be risky because someone may get hurt, but it’s much better a child twist an ankle playing basketball in the street than it is for them to develop metabolic syndrome at the age of 12 because they’re not physically active.
5 - Spend Time With Them:
I’m writing this article on Father’s Day, and because of that I’d be remiss not to touch on how important it is to spend time with kids.
This is true for grandparents and parents alike.
I think it’s easy to let our to do lists get in the way of spending time with our kids. Especially if they’re seemingly doing fine without you there.
But I have a feeling that there's never going to be a time where we thought we spent too much time with our kids.
As the father of two young boys, I try to spend as much time with them as possible. One reason why I do this is because I know they’re not always going to be young. I also love spending time with them, but most importantly I realize that if I want my kids to be strong and healthy and ultimately “good people” they can’t be deprived of time with dad (and mom, grandma, grandpa, uncles and aunts etc).
I believe if every single person on the planet were to spend 2x more time with their kids as they currently do our world would be 2 times better than it already is.
I can’t prove it…
But I have a hunch.
Hopefully that list helps some of you find ways to improve your kid or grandkid’s health.