How Food, Environment Can Affect Young Children

This past month, the American Cancer Society released its latest guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. In order for the general public to reduce their risk of cancer through nutrition and physical activity, the ACS offers the following four guidelines:

· achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life

· adopt a physically active lifestyle

· consume a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods

· limit consumption if you drink alcoholic beverages

One of the key changes, since the American Cancer Society first began releasing cancer prevention guidelines in the 1980s, is a strong emphasis on nutrition.  As the ACS website states: “One of the key changes is the evolution to an emphasis on encouraging a healthy dietary pattern as opposed to individual foods or nutrients to reduce cancer risk. As time has gone on, research suggests that it is likely that all those vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals working together help to reduce risk.”  It is important to emphasize that while many of those “vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals” can be found in dietary supplements (and there are a plethora of those on the market!), there is no substitute for healthy eating.

The United States also faces a health crisis because of our alarming obesity rates. Being overweight increases the risk of many types of cancer; thus that recommendation rates as #1 on the list of the four American Cancer Society general guidelines.   Over the past three decades, the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children ages 2-5 years and adolescents ages 12-19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11 years. (

It is no secret that poor nutrition and being overweight plays a role in many health hazards, cancer being just one of them.  Dietary factors also contribute to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.  More recently, medical research points to poor nutrition as a contributing factor in psychological and neurological disorders as well, including depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, and low self-esteem.  The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that obesity in childhood and adolescence can also be related to endocrine, immune and neurological problems.  Problems in these systems can also be involved in neurodevelopmental conditions like autism.  Dr. Martha Herbert, a Harvard pediatric neurologist, states “There is more and more published evidence that autism can involve many systems of the body beyond the brain, particularly the gut and the immune system.  Because of this I no longer see autism as a disorder of the brain but as a disorder that affects the brain. It also affects the immune system and the gut.  Many children with autism have food allergies or frequent infections, rashes or gut problems like diarrhea or constipation.  Sometimes when these problems are overcome such children do a lot better.”  Herbert’s review of autism research and treatment is covered in her soon-to-be released publication titled “The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies For Making Life All It Can Be.”  The strategies in this book cover things that are health-promoting not just for autism but for everyone.

Read more: Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project presentation focuses on how food, environment can affect young child - Wellesley, Massachusetts - The Wellesley Townsman

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