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Early exposure to chemicals may be programing our kids to be fat

Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Dr Lantz, mother and public health researcher at the University of Queensland, says that new evidence on obesity suggest that the environmental factors that play a part in the obesity epidemic are now firmly identified and are more than just the simple sum of low socio-economic status, high alcohol and junk food intake and a sedentary lifestyle. The elephant in the room has been clearly identified and stated,"early exposure to common chemicals may be programming kids to be fat."

The fact that Newsweek has just run a major article on obesogens (chemicals that can reprogramme cell development and metabolic rate) is very significant.  We all know obesity is at the heart of numerous epidemic health problems, such as diabetes, renal disease and heart disease and cancer.  Obesogens link the chronic health epidemics of our time directly to chemical contaminants.

There are about 1600 artificial flavourings that are permitted as food additives in Australia that are not required to be described on labels because their chemical composition is too complex. Many of the additives permitted in foods today have not undergone safety testing for decades. Tests are rarely done to determine the effects of these additives on behaviour, learning abilities, or whether they cause intolerances or allergies.

Dr Lantz says what is of great concern is that some food additives are still permitted in foods despite their health compromising effects. There are at least 25 food additives that are banned in other countries but still in use in Australia. There are at least 50 additives that have been linked to cancer; 55 or so can trigger asthma; more than 30 are thought to cause hyperactivity and/or learning difficulties in children and 80 may be connected with kidney or liver problems.

According to Dr Lantz as a population, including our children and young people, we are eating more processed, preservative and additive-packed, low-nutrient food and drinking more than any other time in history - and we're eating a lot more food, in general. Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. And it's not much better in Australia. The average Australian household spends more on junk food or fast food or even alcohol than fruit and vegetables.

Dr Lantz says our children are suffering the consequences of these choices. The rate of obesity has more than doubled over the last two decades with Australians now being ranked as one of the fattest developed nations, closely following the USA. Twenty five percent of children are overweight or obese, a huge jump from 5 percent in the 1960s. Australia also has the fastest growing obesity rates in the world, and is the only country where childhood obesity is increasing faster than that of adults. Childhood obesity in Australia is rising at an annual rate of 1 percent, a trend which suggests that half of all young Australians will be overweight by the year 2025.

Nine steps for supporting your kids to eat in wellness

  1. Provide your children with range of nutritious, tasty, easily accessible, preferably organic food options.

According to a report by the UK Soil Association, healthy meals lead to alert and engaged children. The report found that students who eat meals made with fresh (preferably organic), unprocessed ingredients have ‘better concentration and improved attention spans. They also have an increased capacity to learn, and are less likely to be absent from school'.


  1. Talk with your children about what foods they like (and don't like), and why.


    1. Talk with them about your own food preferences

    Why you limit your sugar intake, for example, or why you drink cold-pressed juices religiously, or why you like ‘this' type or ‘that' type of cereal, and what these food choices do to your own body.


    1. Talk with them about how food makes their bodies feel

    Example, energy levels, moods, physical reactions etc.


    1. Make it fun

    Create fun, curiosity and involvement in planning, shopping, food preparation, and cooking; talk seasonality of foods; where they come from; how they make it to your plate.


    1. Be supportive

    Don't judge and assess or do the ‘I told you so' when your children have food reactions (minor meltdowns) to some of the sugar/processed/additive etc. foods they may have consumed (with or without you knowing). Support them making the links between food choices and their body/mind reactions.


    1. Allow kids access to food

    Create spaces in your home where your children can access nutritious food and drink whenever they want to. Why should we have to give our child food? Let them get it for themselves if they want to.


    1. Be a model for eating a variety of foods and living in wellness

    Children respond best to modelling, not control.

    1. Trust ... and wait and learn.

    Further Reading


    About the Author

    Dr Sarah Lantz is a university lecturer, researcher, and a mother. She has an academic and professional background in public health and mental health, and specialises in the area of child and youth health and wellbeing. Dr Lantz was awarded her PhD from the University of Melbourne, Youth Research Centre in 2003. She has 9 years of research experience, managing a number of multidisciplinary research grants, has delivered over 50 conference papers; and published numerous book chapters and articles in peer reviewed journals. This research experience is mirrored by her clinical work, managing a number of teams in child and youth services including the centre of Adolescent Health at the Melbourne Royal Children Hospital. Dr Lantz continues to be an invited speaker in the media on the subject of youth health and wellbeing. Dr Lantz was awarded the Victorian Community Policing Award in 2002 and 2003 for her research with young people. Dr Lantz is presently pursuing a Research Fellowship at the Social Policy Unit, School of Social Work and Applied human Sciences at the University of Queensland.
    Submitted by Chemicalfreeparenting on Nov 1, 2009