How our children became addicted to junk food

What we feed our kids has a profound effect on how they grow and behave. Most of our kids now eat a SAD diet, i.e. Standard Australian/American Diet. 21st century living means many people have moved far away from eating a high fibre, whole food diet that is made up mostly of meat, chicken, seafood, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds etc. Instead convenience foods that are processed, low in fibre, high in fat, sugar and salt and that come in a packet are taking over.

We live in a time where food is plentiful and yet because of poor food choices we are the most undernourished we have ever been. The result of eating this way? Our children have weight management problems, are developing non-alcoholic fatty livers, have developmental delays, behavioural challenges and are the most allergic and fatigued they have ever been. There are lots of tired, malnourished kids getting around out there.

So, how did we get here? Many people choose a highly processed food diet for many reasons including cost, convenience and child satisfaction.

Cost

It’s hard to ignore the specials at the supermarket. It’s cheaper to buy a bag of crisps than to buy a mango for a snack. For many families the weekly food budget is a carefully considered thing. Mac and cheese and two minute noodles on sale seems like a good way to fill growing tummies without breaking the bank. However, buying bags of legumes, oats, plain yoghurt and seasonal fruits and vegetables is also a cost-effective option that for many is being ignored.

Convenience

Getting snacks for our kids is easier when they come neatly packaged up in small colourful bags. LCM bars, tiny teddies, It seems much easier to put those in your day bag or in kids school lunch boxes than peeling a carrot and chopping it up, taking time to decant hummus and put that into a smaller container or making your own biscuits or muffins.

What kids crave

Kids that eat a SAD diet today have taste receptors that are primed for wanting only salty and sweet foods. The addiction to sugar begins early in life with maltodextrin added to baby formula and glucose in toddler formula. Once dopamine receptors in the body are primed for carbohydrates the craving for sugary or salty foods becomes strong. If your child is genetically predisposed to low dopamine (where we see a gene mutation for the D2 receptor) they will develop reward deficiency syndrome and as a kid that manifests as sugar or carb cravings. As an adult that can become substance abuse, gambling or sex addiction.


Modern day agriculture

commercial farming practices mean there is an abundance of wheat, soy and corn to be consumed and it’s found in prepackaged biscuits, breads, crackers, sauces etc.. It’s all well and good to be proud of the fact that mass farming is adjusting to the needs of a growing world population that needs to be fed but we have to question how we do that when health outcomes are negative as a result. So we find ourselves with mostly wheat, soy and sugar laden options at the supermarket. It certainly does not help when the major producers of our foods do not have our health at the forefront of their minds when making our foods.

Is it time for a shopping list and pantry overhaul? Swapping some of the easy convenience foods for some whole foods could be the beginning of turning the tide on poor health outcomes in our kids.