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Children and Junk Food
By Anuradha Satyanarayana

Children find themselves amidst a complex society that is undergoing breathtaking changes. Concepts, relationships, lifestyles are metamorphisised to accommodate the new jet-setting age. Food is no exception. Healthy nutritious foods have been replaced by the new food mantra - JUNK FOOD! Junk food comprises of anything that is quick, tasty, convenient and fashionable. It seems to have engulfed every age; every race and the newest entrants are children. Wafers, colas, pizzas and burgers are suddenly the most important thing. The commonest scenario is a child who returns from school and plonks himself in front of the television, faithfully accompanied by a bowl of wafers and a can of cola. Children suddenly seem to have stepped into a world of fast foods and vending machines, totally unaware of the havoc they are creating for themselves. 

The years between 6-12 are a time of steady growth; good nutrition is a high priority. Children must know that what they eat affects how they grow, feel and behave. Changes in our society have intensified the need for food skills, to the extent that they need to become a part of the child's basic education for good health and survival. The vast majority of working mothers with school age children are laboured with exhausting commutes, upswings in the households, and stress, leading to a situation where parents get to spend limited time with their children. Traditional food skills are not passed on automatically from parent to child. Most people have forgotten that the primary reason for eating is nourishment. In the not so distant past, food was treated with reverence because of its life sustaining quality. Enjoying a meal was sharing experience with the others. Today family dinners are rare. In many ways, our culture is structured to foster poor eating habits. Television commercials and supermarkets are propagating a wide variety of enticing junk foods, attractively packaged and often tagged with a tempting sop. We should be constructing an environment that protects our children. Instead we have a highly seductive environment that undermines eating habits. 

For children who have less vision of the heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure or diabetes that might befall them decades later, the tentacles of a junk food environment are virtually inescapable.  Studies reveal that as early as the age of 30, arteries could beginning clogging and lay the groundwork for future heart attacks. What children eat from puberty affects their risks of prostate and breast cancer.  Osteoporosis and hypertension are other diseases that appear to have their earliest roots in childhood when lifelong eating habits are being formed. Children are especially vulnerable. Poor diets can slow growth, decay new teeth, promote obesity and sow the seeds of infirmity and debilitating disease that ultimately lead to incurable disease and death or worse make life insufferable. 

Most of the times these junk foods contain colors that are laced with colors, those are often inedible, carcinogenic and harmful to the body. These foods and their colors can affect digestive systems, the effects of it emerging after many years. Studies have found that food coloring can cause hyperactivity and lapses of concentration in children. Children suffering from Learning Disabilities are often advised against eating food with artificial coloring. Chocolates, colas, flavored drinks and snack tit bits are full of artificial coloring. 

Not surprisingly, junk food not only has physiological repercussions, but also psychological ones - far reaching ones that affect the child's intellect and personalities. Coping intelligently with their dietary needs increases their self-esteem, and encourages further discovery. School days are full of educational challenges that require long attention spans and stamina. Poor nutritional habits can undermine these pre-requisites of learning, as well as sap the strength that children need for making friends, interacting with family, participating in sports and games or simply feeling god about themselves. 

Junk foods are often eaten in instead of regular food, an essential Indian diet that consists of wholesome chapatis and vegetables or snacks like upmas and idlis. Not surprisingly eating junk food leads to a sense of starvation both physically and mentally, as the feeling of satiation and contentment that comes after a wholesome meal is absent. There is simply no substitute for the feeling that descends, when you wake up and find that you are ready to take on the world and this primarily stems from GOOD HEALTH! There is no better time than now to build a supportive environment for nurturing our children and endowing them with a legacy of good health.
 

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