Nutrition and Children

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I love my 2 kids. And I’d say almost every parent on the planet would agree that once you have kids, they become your world and you want to give them every chance to be the best they can in life. However, in my line of work I’ve seen time and time again well-meaning parents giving their kids repeated foods that have been associated with an increased risk of overweight/obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer (just to name a few) as that is the only food they will eat. I know about fussy eating, I’ve seen it in my line of work and in my own children. It does make dinner time stressful and it does make things hard. You do worry about your child not eating anything at all and even I’ve caved and gone ‘right you won’t eat this eggplant parmesan, here’s a plate of chicken nuggets’. But I learnt quickly that the more I give up, the more my child learns that they can get their own way. So whilst I was caving on my own principles, I was preaching to other parents what I wasn’t doing. I soon realised that this isn’t going to work, I quickly started taking my own advice and just served the exact same meal for my kids as I have. The only motto we had was ‘you don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it’ and this worked a treat. My son will try pretty much anything you put in front of his face, he may complain but he eats it. He will happily consume vegetables without complaining about them and I never force him to eat his meals.

I know everyone is different and every parenting style is different but giving your kids healthy nutrition is one of the simplest ways you can ensure you are giving your kids the best chance at life. Caving and giving them sausages and chicken nuggets every night is increasing their chances of adverse health outcomes. Now I know for a fact that these parents just don’t realise the effect the foods they are giving their kids could be having, how many parents realise that processed meats increase the risk of cancer? Do many parents even know what constitutes a processed meat? It certainly doesn’t state how processed it is on the packaging, in fact a lot of processed meats have the term ‘natural’ on the packaging. I saw the other day naturally smoked ham, what does that even mean? Did they leave the ham in a naturally occurring bushfire?

There is one key that is missing for parents and that is food knowledge. That doesn’t mean that every parent out there needs to do a course on how/what/when/where to feed their child, (although in saying that when you have your first child you are expected to go to courses about how to give birth, breast feeding and sometimes even exercise classes, but there’s nothing about what do I feed my child to give them the best nutrition) but it would be good for parents to have easy access to information regarding feeding their children. 1 in every 4 (aged 2-17) children were overweight in 2014-15 according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). This indicates that children are not receiving the appropriate nutrition. There is a simple answer to this problem, and that is dietitians. Dietitians are university educated nutrition professionals who can help parents sort through all the information out there and decipher the best nutrition approach to their children. Every single child is different and every parent is different, the individual approach is important to tailor the nutrition needs to the specific scenarios. Google can’t do that for you. But I can. And I know a lot of my colleagues can too.

So I’ve identified 1 massive barrier to our children’s health, and that is education. A dietitian can help with this, but this step identifies another barrier. Money. The same stats (from AIHW) show that children from a low socioeconomic status are more likely to be overweight. Therefore it is unlikely that these parents will be able to fork out the money to get tailored nutrition advice from their local dietitian. And this simply isn’t fair. As a dietitian, I know a lot of dietitians are struggling to get work, this doesn’t make sense with the rates of food related illness occurring in Australia right now. There’s plenty of trained professionals who’d love to help but the money just isn’t there. In Canberra there is at least a 3 month wait list to see a dietitian on the public health system. That’s as an outpatient, I’d argue that by the time the 3 months has passed and the dietitian follows up with that patient, a lot could have changed and the patient’s needs could be completely irrelevant to the follow up. The government needs to address this health care crisis, or we’ll see more and more fat kids on the radar. It’s a simple solution, hire more dietitians, get them in schools educating the kids, hold parent sessions to educate the parents and provide more free dietetic services for those that can’t afford it. Dietitians can help, we want to help and we are itching to get our expertise out there.

Dear government, please pull your finger out and think of prevention rather than treatment. It will save you a bucket load of cash. Dietitians can be that prevention!

PS no I’m not looking for a job.

PPS kids are annoying, just eat the damn vegetables.