Dr. Bianca Garilli, ND
I’m at that stage of life where the majority of my hours revolve around children – my own kids and those I see as patients in my naturopathic medical practice. Let me paint you a visual picture: kids at home, kids at work, kids as my tired eyes open over a steaming cup of coffee (why do they get up early on the weekends?), kids in my shower, kids on my computer, kids on date nights (mine, not theirs) and yes, kids crawling into my bed at 2 am. That’s me. That’s my life. And, I love it as I realize all too soon it will be over. So, I have committed to being the best mother and doctor possible. To me, that means educating my own children and my pediatric patients on the best lifestyle options that are available and that align with their individual, unique situations and needs. After all, I know intuitively, and am backed by research, that optimal lifestyle implementation will be their springboard to achieving their highest human potential.
I recently attended a conference in Chicago where the topic of presentations revolved around chronic illness treatment and prevention through lifestyle medicine. In adults. The information was phenomenal, groundbreaking and yes, riveting – rarely words used to describe a medical conference but in this case it was an extraordinary three days.
While at the conference, however, I realized there was a gap in the information I was hearing. I learned about preconception and conception health and then we moved into adult health. Where, I wondered, was the information on the chronic illness treatment and prevention in kids? After all, this will be the face of the world in a few short years. Our kids are the world’s future.
Sadly though, the stark reality of our children’s health in the US today can be seen in the statistics below:
- In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents in this country were overweight or obese 1
- Metabolic syndrome (MetSyn) in obese children and adolescents has been estimated to range from 28.7 to 49.7% 2,3 (MetSyn is a precursor to type 2 diabetes and a wide variety of other chronic disease processes)
- Children 8—18 years of age spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, including TV, computers (not including school related activities), video games, movies, print and music 4
- Children/adolescents between the ages of 2-19 consume on the average between 70-273 calories from sugar drinks per day (sugar drinks are defined as fruit drinks, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened bottled waters and do not include diet drinks, 100% fruit juice, sweetened teas, and flavored milks) 5
- Only 25% of adolescents are meeting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day 6
- Across the nation, 36% of adolescents said they eat less than one serving of fruit per day and 37.7% indicated they eat less than one serving of vegetable per day 7
If it’s not obvious, our kids will take their first steps onto the path of chronic illness while they are still in their first to second decade of life. In fact, it’s been projected, for the first time ever in our history, the current generation of children may live shorter life spans than their parents. 8 Let me repeat this statistic in a different way in case it didn’t make the impact it should have: our children’s generation may not live as long as their parents’ generation.
Take this data one step further and we can predict that a shorter lifespan due to chronic illness likely indicates an increase in the number of years lived with a lower quality of life due to disability, hospitalizations and illness. Putting these pieces together in an equation it’s easy to see that:
Shorter Life Expectancy + Decreased Quality of Life = Living Without Reaching Highest Human Potential
Here’s something else to consider: This is preventable!
Can you imagine your child having a heart attack by the age of 17? How about type 2 diabetes by the age of 25? And osteoporosis by age 32? That’s a very real possibility if we don’t change something soon. And, I do say WE because it’s really not in our children’s hands to change the foods they eat, the beverages they drink, the amount of sleep they get and the amount of physical activity they engage in when they are young. As they become older and take on more responsibility then it will become their choice.
However, the choices they make as they grow older will be a reflection of the lifestyle and environment in which they are raised and in which they function as a young child and adolescent. The good news is we can change things. There are things we can do today to change the tide of chronic illnesses in our children’s and their children’s generations. It starts at home and it must start now.
As a former Marine, my training taught me to propose solutions to problems, not just report them. Below you will find recommendations that we, as the parents and care-givers of today’s younger generation, can implement and model within our own daily lives – in homes, schools, daycare centers, places of work, places of worship, sporting events, extracurricular activities and anywhere else that you find you have a child-centered audience (which, if you are anything like me, will be everywhere!).
It really is our responsibility to do so. If not us, then who?
Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Implement in Your Daily Life:
- Meal time: Aim for three well-balanced meals interspersed with 1-2 snacks per day. This will support a sustained energy supply and balanced blood sugar levels. Meals should include a source of healthy protein, fiber and fat. Serve a glass of water with each meal. Finally, ensure that your child is being offered at least two sources of green vegetables per day. Remember that serving size will be different for different sized kids!
- Snack time: Serve a fresh fruit and vegetable with every snack (this counts as a fiber source and is helpful for gut, immune and cardiovascular health) and couple it with a source of healthy protein. Get rid of the processed carbohydrates and sugar filled snack foods – they serve no healthful purpose in the body and simply increase hyperactivity, cravings, weight gain, and abnormal body composition while also promoting poor blood sugar control and low energy. Here are a couple of snack ideas for on-the-go kids: apple slices and hard boiled eggs, carrot sticks and unsweetened nut butter (peanut, almond, etc), natural jerky and a handful of grapes, avocados and all-natural sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
- Limit ALL packaged foods. This includes prepackaged “lunch meals”, pre-packaged “fruit” snacks, artificially flavored and colored fruit rolls ups, processed chips, cookies, sodas, etc. Use these only when absolutely necessary and tell your kids why you’ve chosen to reduce their intake of these low-nutrient, high-sugar foods.
- Offer water over all other beverages. Do this every couple of hours. Let your kids see you drink water throughout the day. Encourage them to hydrate often. If you do this enough, kids will begin to drink it.
- Get outside every day. Studies indicate that outdoor, natural settings are beneficial for improving concentration and behavior so let your kids get out in the woods, dip their feet in the lake, fish in the stream, walk in the park, climb a tree and splash in mud puddles. 9, 10, 11
- Create an “after dinner walk” tradition. A 15 minute walk after meals supports a reduction in blood sugar and may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Why not make your new motto – “the family that walks together, lives longer together”?
- Build exercise into your daily routine; 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week for adults or as your doctor advises, 60 minutes per day for children and youth. Be sure to include 2-3 sessions of muscle building activities each week which are appropriate for your age. 12
- Walk your talk. Practice what you preach. Be the model for healthy, happy living to those around you – little and big.
If not now, then when?
If not you, then who?
- Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association2014;311(8):806-814.
- Cook S, Weitzman M, Auinger P, Nguyen M, Dietz WH: Prevalence of a metabolic syndrome phenotype in adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 157:821-827, 2003
- Weiss R, Dziura J, Burgert TS, Tamborlane WV, Taksali SE, Yeckel CW, Allen K, Lopes M, Savoye M, Morrison J, Sherwin RS, Caprio S: Obesity and the metabolic syndrome in children and adolescents. N Engl J Med. 350: 2362-2374, 2004.
- Rideout VJ, Foehr UG, Roberts DF. Generation of M2 Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds. A Kaiser Family Foundation Study; 2010.
- Ogden CL, et al. Consumption of Sugar Drinks in the United States, 2005-2008. NCHS Data Brief, No 71, August 2011. [PDF]
- Fakhouri THI, et al. Physical Activity in U.S. Youth Aged 12–15 Years, 2012. NCHS Data Brief, No 141, January 2014. [PDF]
- State Indicator Board on Fruits and Vegetables, 2013. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Division of Physical Activity and Obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [PDF]
- Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, Layden J, Carnes BA, Brody J, Hayflick L, Butler RN, Allison DB, and Ludwig DS, “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century,” New England Journal of Medicine, 352:11, pp. 1138-1145.
- Kuo, Frances E, Taylor Andrea Faber. A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study. Am J Public Health. 2004 September; 94(9):1580-1586. [Pub Med]
- Taylor AF, Kuo FE. Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park. J Atten Disord. 2009 Mar;12(5):402-9. [Pub Med]
- Van den Berg AE, Van den Berg CG. A comparison of children with ADHD in a natural and built setting. Child Care Health Dev. 2011 May:37(3):430-9.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Recommendations for Physical Activity. – NHLBI, NIH. 2011. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/phys/recommend.html. Accessed October 24, 2014.
Dr. Garilli is a former US Marine turned Naturopathic Doctor. She runs a private practice in Folsom, California where she specializes in treating and preventing chronic disease states through a personalized lifestyle approach including nutrition, exercise, botanical medicine and homeopathy.
In addition to private practice, she consults with nutritional supplement companies and integrative medical clinics on case studies, professional consultations and educational program development. Dr. Garilli is a member of the faculty at Hawthorn University and a founding board member for the CA Chapter of the Children’s Heart Foundation. Dr. Garilli lives in Northern California with her husband, children and four backyard chickens.