Cancer consistently ranks among the top 3 leading causes of death in both adults and children aged 5-14. While childhood cancer is complex with few avoidable risk factors, there is one major risk factor that we can address: Childhood obesity. Childhood obesity not only increases the likelihood of cancer in adulthood but starts affecting a child’s health even before birth.
A study by the University of Pittsburgh revealed a concerning correlation between maternal obesity and childhood cancer. Children born to obese mothers face a higher risk of developing cancer during early childhood. Researchers studied millions of birth records and thousands of cancer registries that connected pre-pregnancy body-mass index (BMI) in mothers and subsequent cancer diagnoses in their children. For those born to severely obese mothers with a BMI greater than 40, the risk of developing leukemia before the age of 5 is a staggering 57%.
It’s crucial to emphasize that this information isn’t intended to blame anyone, but to highlight how our actions as parents directly impact our children’s health. Our goal is to empower you to maintain a healthy weight, as even small amounts of weight loss reduce the risk of cancer for our children.
The global projection of 250 million obese children by 2030 is alarming, and it’s a problem affecting both rich and poor countries. This epidemic is primarily driven by global marketing of processed foods, which often prioritize commercial interests over the well-being of our children. While governmental efforts towards policy changes to address inactivity and unhealthy diets have had limited success, it’s up to us as parents to change our child’s health trajectory.
So, how can we get involved? One of the most effective ways is by encouraging physical activity for both ourselves and our kids. An Australian study by Huggies found that toddlers take over 17,000 steps per day, which is 4 times more than adults. Physical activity benefits children and adults in various ways:
- It enhances perception, memory and language
- We learn from our movements, so we become faster and stronger
- It helps us grow physically, mentally and spiritually
We don’t always need to schedule our physical activities; there are numerous opportunities to build habits through unstructured activities:
- Make household chores more enjoyable by playing music or turning them into a game
- Utilize screen time positively by engaging in dance, aerobic or yoga videos at home when the weather doesn’t permit outdoor activities
- Meeting up with like-minded healthy friends for walks or visits to the park instead of staying indoors or going to restaurants
Another significant way to reduce obesity and cancer risk for us and our children is by showing them how to eat well. Start by examining the ingredients in your child’s snacks, as well as your own. Many snacks contain acronyms and “natural flavors” which are often code for chemicals. Consider the following questions about your pantry and fridge::
- What items and brands are in there?
- Do I know the ingredients in these items or how to pronounce them?
- What do I eat in front of my child?
- What kinds of foods does my child ask me for?
This assessment will help you understand your current habits and identify areas for improvement. Give yourself grace – instead of replacing everything at once, begin by making gradual changes. Here are some ideas to improve your ingredient choices:
- Swap popular cookie brands like Keebler, Chips Ahoy and Nabisco for healthier options like Siete, Jovial and Simple Mills
- Replace conventional bread brands with healthier alternatives like Ezekiel, One Degree or Happy Campers (check the frozen aisle)
- Opt for healthier pasta options like Tolerant, Young Kobras or Skout Organics instead of Barilla, Mission or Glutino
- Choose cereals like Lovebird, Three Wishes and One Degree over sugary choices like Cheerios, Froot Loops or Rice Krispies
Being a parent is challenging, and researching and reading labels in the grocery store can be time-consuming. Consider using online marketplaces like Pure Bellies, where you can select snacks based on age, type and dietary restrictions. To further educate yourself about foods and ingredients that negatively impact our health, explore resources like Food Babe, which provides simplified, accurate research and tips for replacing processed or unhealthy traditional snacks with brands with whole food ingredients or homemade alternatives.
As parents, we have the power to reduce childhood obesity and lower cancer risks by promoting physical activity and making healthier food choices for our families. Let’s take proactive steps today to ensure a healthier future for our children. In the words of Dr. James DiNicolantonio, Parents set the tone for their children:
- You eat healthy, your kids eat healthy.
- You exercise, your kids will exercise.
- You behave appropriately, your kids are more likely to behave well.
- Don’t just tell them how to live. Show them.
Thank you for being part of our community where we share a passion for aging gracefully and saving lives through cancer navigation. #Let’sNavigateCancerTogether