Our Children, Our Future!

Mariam Alireza

Published — Wednesday 20 February 2013

Last update 19 February 2013 11:00 pm

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Two weeks ago, I tackled a very troubling subject concerning our precious children. It was about child obesity, which has sadly grown into a nationwide health problem. The condition has become a common sight in clinics, schools, streets, fast food eateries and everywhere. It is worrisome, because excess body fat, especially when concentrated around the waist, produces inflammation, leading to metabolic syndromes such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disorder, heart diseases and even cancer, regardless of age and status. Most adults and children in America and the Arabian Gulf states are not only overweight, but also undernourished due to consuming unhealthy and nutrient-empty junk food and soda and sweetened drinks.
Such meals made from processed, refined and nutrient-stripped foods (white bread and sugar, cola and caffeine drinks, processed meat, “harmful fats,” and additives) cannot sustain good health; they also invite endless diseases. They provoke hyperactivity and mood swings in children and teenagers; increase weight; cause stress and depression; and result in chronic mental and physical ailments, leading to low productivity and high health costs.
Sedentary habits have become a lifestyle. Surgical procedures may help in certain obese cases, but not for children, as they come with health complications and sometimes death. There is no such thing as “magic” pills (without a high price) to have healthy weight except good old nutritional habits of fresh wholesome food, good sleep and activity. This is the focus of my article today in order to protect our children from obesity, disease and disabilities. I shall also recommend effective ways to counteract bad habits and behaviors. Now, I shall continue exploring causes of obesity, other than fast fried fatty foods and sedentary lifestyles.
A culprit in fuelling weight gain, obesity and physical and mental disorders is insufficient and disturbed sleep in children as well as adults.
Altering the body’s biological clock can become a major factor that leads to child and adult obesity. In studies, lab animals, which have similar bodily reactions to humans, were exposed to electrical light late at night and sleeping hours were delayed. The experiment caused them to become more prone to weight gain and obesity. Consequently, they also began developing glucose intolerance even with their same previous diet and amount of activity. Adults, who work night shifts, were also found to become fatter and more overweight, raising their body mass index (BMI).
In an interview, researcher Emily Snell at North Eastern University, Illinois, declared that “Children who get less sleep tend to weigh more five years later” than those who slept the required hours. According to the study on behaviors related to obesity, sleep experts suggested 10 to 11 hours of night restful sleep for five to 12 year-olds and no less than eight to nine hours for teenagers.
Less sleeping hours disrupt the hormones that regulate appetite, resulting in more eating, lethargy and inactivity. The outcome also affects school performance and productivity. Research associates fewer hours of night sleep with decline in cognitive performance, undeveloped social skills and failure to adapting to school schedules in younger children. Depression and school problems are also seen in teenagers whose sleep is not regular. Sleep loss seems to interfere with both children’s in the mental and physical formation.
Furthermore, other research found that “an extra hour of sleep can cut the likelihood of being overweight from 36 percent to 30 percent in children ages 3 to 8 and from 34 to 30 percent in those ages 8 to 13.” This calls for serious intervention at an early stage. Parents and schools should practice discipline. Certain primary schools in Europe and China allow young children to nap at school. I, recently, saw a funny sight in a Chinese school on the Internet. Children were shown curled up on top of their desks fast asleep, oblivious of the photographer and his lens.
Apparently napping is not only good for toddlers and infants, but also for older children and adults. Recent research showed that napping after lunch (siesta) consolidated learning and memory in young adults and restored the brain’s ability to absorb more information, preparing them for more learning. According to assistant Professor Mathew Walker of neuroscience at the University of Cal., Berkeley, those who napped between lessons produced better results than those who didn’t.
Good sleeping habits and regular hours are encouraged in children to adjust the body’s biological clock, which also regulates the bowel movement and mood. Restful sleep renews energy; repairs cells, neurons, tissue, muscles, organs and systems; rebuilds the immune defenses; boosts killer cells to fight cancer; enhances the memory and intellect; reinforces learning skills; helps the interwiring of neurons; balances the brain chemistry and hormones; intensifies mental alertness; sharpens mental acuity and physical responses; stabilizes and elevates the mood; and improves problem solving. Sleep loss, on the other hand, is a contributor to depression, anxiety, irritability, stress, mental and emotional disorders, slower responses, fatigue and lethargy.
The brain requires two important hormones to help us sleep. These are serotonin and melatonin. We need the nutrient L-tryptophan, which is found in chicken, eggs, fish, meat, cheese and dairy, tofu, nuts and seeds, to make 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and serotonin, precursors of melatonin, the sleep hormone that adjusts the biological clock. With the help of folic acid, vitamin B6 and C, magnesium and zinc, the two hormones enhance brain functions and stability; improve other hormones and mood; enhance deep sleep; readjust the body clock; and also prevent nightmares.
Deep breathing, yoga, soft music, or Quran recital before bedtime too makes the brain activity turn to alpha waves, which lead to restful slumber and sweet dreams.
Here are more tips from Robin Lloyd, senior editor of LiveScience, which can prepare body and brain for healthy slumber:
Keep regular bedtime hours
Sleeping hours should not be less than ten hours for children, eight or nine for adolescents and seven for adults
Avoid caffeinated drinks (soda drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate), alcohol and certain drugs at least six to eight hours before bedtime as well as spicy and fried foods
Unwind and relax two hours before sleeping time
Reduce light and sounds before bedtime
Avoid the computer and TV before sleeping
Regular physical activity is required during the day but should be avoided at night
Herbal drinks like chamomile and mint calm and prepare the body and mind for sleep
Lettuce and celery also enhance the quality of sleep
The “bad” news for some is that caffeine and cola drinks counteract melatonin by suppressing it for as much as ten hours. Outside stimulus like TV, exercise, computer games, exercise, excitement, anxiety and worries disrupt any attempt for sleep, resulting in restless sleep, insomnia and obesity.
Next time, I shall discuss healthy nutrition, exercise and good habits to control weight and give energy and health to our children all the time. My advice for parents is to start with themselves by setting the good example and offer them healthy homemade meals. Children will follow if we exercise discipline with lots of love. Love is not giving them whatever they wish for; love is to protect them from harming themselves. Parents and schools should become allies to improve the health and future of children. Obesity is a serious problem for the whole family!
N.B.: Individuals with medical conditions or on medication should consult their physicians when they decide to introduce anything new in their diet even if it is natural.
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