Well Being

Fast Food Is Now A Cause Of Asthma, Eczema For Kids; Here’s Why That’s A Good Thing

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fast food asthma eczema

Childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease are the most commonly discussed side effects of eating fast food. But a new study says that's only the beginning: Fast food could be a cause of asthma and eczema for kids, too. This is clearly terrible news for kids reared on vending machine snacks and Happy Meal dinners, but in the long run, it might actually help Americans wake up and change the way they eat.

Researchers gathered data from 500,000 kids in 50 countries, asking adolescents about their health and eating habits (and asking parents the same for younger kids). The survey found that kids who eat junk (defined loosely in the survey as “fast food/burgers”) more than three times per week are 39% more likely to suffer asthma, eczema and rhinoconjunctivitis (an eye disorder)–and those who eat fruit and vegetables regularly seem to be better protected against developing allergies, asthma, and other non-communicable diseases.

Obviously: This is scary, bad news. But there's a silver lining, if you ask me.

The thought of little kids and teens who eat fast food (which, in many school districts, includes any kid who eats school lunch) suffering asthma and eczema is pretty sad. These are things that cause (sometimes intense) physical discomfort and pain. They also prevent kids from functioning normally–asthma and eczema can disturb everything from sleep to sports. And it's not because other kids bully them, or because their health conditions are stigmatized or even visible to the outside world. Unlike obesity, the impact of asthma and eczema is immediate for kids and their families: They're costly to treat (inhalers, skin creams, etc. don't come cheap, especially if you're not covered by health insurance), and require immediate attention.

Heightened risk for heart disease and diabetes, on the other hand, are easier to dismiss, or even be completely unaware of, especially for little kids (because honestly, who sits around thinking about an eight year old having to get an angioplasty?). Obesity is officially acknowledged as a serious health concern in the U.S., but unofficially, we still don't really know how to deal with it, especially when it comes to kids.

It's easy to talk about childhood obesity in terms of numbers and statistical risks; it's harder to tell a kid that being fat–the same thing they're more than likely bullied for by their peers–is “bad,” and that they have to fix something that's largely defined by how they look. Putting kids on diets is hugely problematic–to say nothing of putting them on a scale.

But moving the conversation away from size and towards actual measures of health–and ones that kids and their families can understand in terms of their immediate physical well-being–is a good thing. If eating healthier foods literally makes kids breathe easier and feel more comfortable in their skin, we don't have to talk about their health in terms of abstract concepts, or criticize the way they look.  And if we can get kids to feel the immediate benefits of eating vegetables and fruits instead of french fries and burgers, we don't even have to touch counting calories or measuring their health by pounds on the scale.

Coincidentally, that's probably a better way to focus on health for adults, too.

Photo: flickr user emrank

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