Healthlines: Our children come first

Updated 27 February 2013

Healthlines: Our children come first

Childhood obesity is not the fault of the child but of the adults who influence the child. Many doctors predict that this may be the first generation where we will see children dying before their parents. This is something that is hard to imagine but is this is due to an error in eating beliefs and practices.
Children today are growing up in a world that is changing very fast. Parents are busy: Often too busy with work stress and telephone calls to really take the time to be with their children and listen so that their children feel important and valued. Children's lives too have become over pressured by long hours of school, with hours of homework and too many examinations. It is very rare in England, even in the countryside, to see many children out playing in the woods and fields and getting exercise as we did when I was young. This is mainly due to the world being perceived as a very much more dangerous place for children.
In England children as young as six months are often left in the care of nurseries for long hours by their professional parents; sometimes for as long as 10 hours a day. Is this progress?
It is a well-studied fact that happy children who have had some degree of independence to play and explore go on to be far more successful than those who have been hot-housed in a classroom and closeted in their bedroom with their electronic games. There are many studies and plenty of expert opinions around but parents do need to think for themselves; and decide what is best for their own child to thrive and be healthy. Childhood is such a very short but important time and children should be encouraged to enjoy it.
The main causes of childhood obesity are poor eating habits; lack of physical activity; and insufficient sporting activity. If we feel that it is not safe for children to play outside then they need to be offered more physical activity at school to compensate. Sport should be part of the curriculum at schools not once or twice a week but every day. And parents should lobby for this.
Parents too should lead by example; children do not always do as we say but often copy what we do. If we eat junk food and spend our lives in front of screens they will grow up believing that that is how they should live their lives. Children should always feel they come first, not your career, and I always make it a point never to interrupt a conversation with my child to answer my phone. Children need at least one hour of physical activity per day to be healthy whereas adults need only thirty minutes.
Advertising has been used to make hamburgers and pizza appear as cool modern food for teenagers to be eating. American soaps show stars sitting on couches eating ice cream and chips and dips. There are so many habits of modern eating that are considered normal in the world that our children have grown up in that are not healthy. It is for grandparents and parents to educate their children on how healthy eating practices from the past compare with the factory processed food we now eat.
Portion sizes are also key to good health. Talk to your child about what is a normal portion size, as some children do not know. It is a difficult fact to get over to children as they have grown up with larger portions. This generation has grown up with the idea that a super-sized meal is good value for money. A mother, as the provider of food for the family, must think about how much food goes on to the table. If as a mother you put loads of food on the dinner table then your children will think they have the right to eat too much.
It is always important to make changes gradually over time and to be patient. If it has taken your child time to get into habits it will equally take time to get into new healthy eating habits.
The average restaurant meal is now four times larger than it was in the 1950s.
The average adult is now 26 pounds heavier than in the 1950s.
This is too big a subject to tackle in one article so please, if you are interested in helping your children to be more active please e-mail me at [email protected] for fact sheet on how to get your child more active.

Ask Alva
I am worried about my 16 year-old son’s weight and eating habits. Every evening while doing his homework he drinks two fizzy drinks, two packets of chips and a bar of chocolate and a packet of chewits.
— Samah

These are not good habits and they do have to change — these dietary choices put your child at increased risk for heart disease, Type II Diabetes, stroke and certain cancers in adult life.
I am sure that if you talk to your son sensibly about creating new healthy habits while having the occasional treat to look forward to he will listen and try to move toward healthier snacks. Decide together on one healthy snack and one evening treat.
Make sure you spend time with him in the evenings and discuss his homework and always have a family evening meal together where everyone gets the chance to talk about his or her day.
— Alva

Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

Updated 21 April 2018

Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

JEDDAH: There is a growing need for dietary supplements in Saudi Arabia, given the increasing popularity of junk food and the effective role supplements can play in treating diseases caused by mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

A recent study found that 22 percent of Saudi people take nutritional supplements. It is no surprise, then, that many Saudi businesses have forged partnerships with international dietary-supplement companies.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss, a Saudi dietitian with a Ph.D. in nutrition, said dietary supplements can be defined as substances that provide the human body with a nutrient missing from a person’s regular diet. However, she stressed that they are not intended to replace healthy eating.

She also warned against taking them without first talking to a doctor or dietitian, as some products can have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. 

“They can also cause problems if someone has a history of certain health issues,” she added.

A blood test can determine which nutrients we are not getting enough of in our diet, and therefore which supplements might be beneficial. Nutritional supplements are also used to help treat certain health conditions. 

“Vitamin C, for example, is often used to reduce cold symptoms,” said Idriss. “Fish oil is taken to lower elevated blood triglycerides.”

She suggested four daily essentials that can bridge nutritional gaps in our diet: a multivitamin, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. 

“I routinely recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to my clients after consulting with their doctors,” she said. 

“For menstruating women, who require 18 milligrams of iron each day, a daily supplement helps boost iron intake.”

She said people over the age of 50 are advised to take a multivitamin to ensure they are getting enough B12, which plays a key role in the functioning of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells. 

“Older adults are more vulnerable to B12 deficiency because they are more likely to have decreased production of stomach acid, which is needed to release B12 from the proteins in food.” said Idriss. 

“It is also a good idea to take a daily multivitamin if one is following a low-calorie diet.”

She also pointed out that a high intake of DHA and EPA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A deficiency of DHA might also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. 

“A daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of both DHA and EPA is equivalent to eating 12 ounces of salmon a week,” said Idriss.

The dietitian believes that the Saudis who take food supplements often do so more to benefit their appearance than their health. 

“Saudi women consume more dietary supplements than other people in Saudi Arabia,” she said. 

“They do so either to lose weight or to care for their hair and nails. Bodybuilders also take large amounts of supplements.”

However, both groups, according to Idriss, tend to take supplements on the recommendation of friends and trainers, not doctors. 

She warned that commercials and social-media rumors can persuade people to buy supplements online that may not be approved as safe by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and advised people to get as much of their daily nutrient needs as possible from healthy eating.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss

“Along with vitamins and minerals, a healthy diet provides fiber and hundreds of protective phytochemicals, something a supplement cannot do,” she said, adding that the body absorbs natural food more effectively than supplements.

In addition, combining supplements with medications can have dangerous, even life-threatening, effects. 

“Drugs for heart disease and depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth-control pills are less effective when taken with herbal supplements,” she said.

“Taking an anticoagulant, aspirin, and a vitamin E supplement together may increase the potential for internal bleeding or even stroke.”


Natural sources

With the spread of fast-food restaurants and their alluring ads, the long-term health of the Saudi people is in danger, as children and young people snub natural sources of nutrients, such as fruit and vegetables. 

“This can lead to many deficiency diseases. Moreover, vegetarians can develop similar illnesses due to the absence of meat in their diet,” she said.
Dr. Ashraf Ameer, a family-medicine consultant, said the importance of nutritional supplements lies in treating mineral and vitamin deficiency, especially for pregnant women, growing children, diabetics, people with chronic diseases, and the elderly. 

“However, these products should come from reliable companies and meet Saudi food and drug requirements,”he added.

Mohammed Yaseen, who has a food supplements business, said his company works with a leading British health-care company to provide the Saudi market with high quality products.

“With this we hope we can contribute to the national transformation program by raising private-sector spending in health care from 25 percent to 35 percent, which in turn would lead to the sector’s financial sustainability and boost economic and social development in the Kingdom,” Yaseen said.


Vitamin Terms

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid.  Phytochemical is a biologically active compound found in plants.