Beware, processed foods are addictive for children
Post the age of only milk and milk based products diet, children these days are introduced to all kinds of foods, more to develop their taste buds for variety.
Parents are often seen sharing their soft drinks or tea initially as just small occasional sips, and then separate servings, if child takes a liking for them. Little do parents think on what they are giving to their young children, at an age, when kids may not know what is healthy or not
These early, yet wrong food introductions gradually lead to habit forming addictions in children, sooner than many parents would like to believe. Nutritionists have for long been educating parents, but visible callousness still prevails in many households.
Highly processed foods which are loaded with refined carbohydrates, salts, sugars and added fats, are a favorite amongst children. Some of these include colas, potato chips/wafers, cookies, ice creams, pizzas, pastas, noodles, chocolates, cheeseburgers, cakes/pastries & candies. The list is much longer.
The babies’ food environment is dominated by these easily accessible and very heavily marketed processed food items, almost everywhere.
Research shows processed foods trigger ‘compulsive use’, when children are unable to quit or cut down their consumption once they get used to eating them. Processed foods change the way they feel and also cause changes in the brain that are of similar magnitude as that of nicotine in tobacco products. These foods are highly reinforcing and begin to trigger intense urges and cravings, leading children to become addicted to such foods.
Processed foods are designed to quickly deliver unnaturally high doses of refined carbohydrates and fats, and this is where they hold the addictive potential. Such foods contain complex substances that cannot be simplified to a single chemical agent acting through a specific central mechanism. Children get hooked to them for taste and appeal, and then they can’t stop, even if their parents want them to.
This becomes a concern as kids are a major target of advertising for all these food products. We have all witnessed the kids menu at QSRs (quick service restaurants). The ‘special meals’ for kids are nothing but designed temptations to addiction over years, as they appear intensely rewarding and hard to resist. Nutrition experts believe it’s high time we stop calling such processed foods as food, but instead refer them as highly refined substances that are addictive for children.
Food addiction is more strongly associated with total ‘empty calories’ consumed by kids, as they are more vulnerable to the negative effects of addictive substances. Food addiction is not only serious, it can lead to serious effects on mental and emotional health. Poor food habits and diets dominated by highly processed foods now contribute to preventable deaths & life-threatening conditions like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease in young children.
Food addiction, like any addiction, affects body’s chemistry and brain. Processed foods have high taste and they create sugar imbalances in blood and dopamine reactions in the brain—two factors that lead to addictions. Their consumption creates ‘short term satiation’ followed by craving for more. Its time parents take note of what the child eats and focus on food items in diet which are more filling, tasteful and healthy.