Junk/Fast food - yes or no?
Posted by: Brigitte Rozario, 3-Aug-2009
Is it okay to have junk food and fast
food? Is it a complete no-no or okay for now and then? Do parents
really watch their children's diet?
Dr Koh Chu-Sing, the Scientific & Regulatory Affairs Director of Danone Dumex Malaysia, has had a career in nutrition for over 30 years. He says:
Fast food is just food that is delivered fast. Not all fast food is junk food. You can get some nutritious fast food - for example, the economic rice.
Junk food is defined as food with empty calories. That means for the amount of food you eat it only has calories and doesn't have much nutrients. The other definition of junk food is that if you take it regularly over a long period of time, it is unhealthy. It might promote obesity and a deficiency in some nutrients.
Examples of junk food are potato crisps, burgers and deep fried chicken. Taken daily over a long period of time they can cause obesity and they have a high salt content that can promote hypertension. They can also promote malnutrition, which basically means abnormal nutrition.
Is it okay for kids to take junk food? If they take it occasionally it's all right because junk food is normally enjoyable but they should not be encouraged to take it every day. Having junk food regularly will encourage children to get used to high salt and sugar content in their food and as a result they will tend to take food with high sugar and high salt content.
This is not to be encouraged as a daily form of snacking or diet for a child. Occasionally as a form of reward it is all right; by occasionally I mean once a week or once a fortnight.
You should start getting concerned when a child puts on excessive weight or if he or she loses a lot of weight. That means that the child is not taking a proper diet. If the child avoids eating meals and would prefer to take some other things, either very sweet or very salty food, this is also when you should be concerned.
If a child wants to replace his normal meals with junk food then I think that is cause for concern. But the best way to know exactly if the child is doing well nutritionally is to have his weight measured, that means being compared with the growth chart. Or you can calculate the BMI (Body Mass Index). From there you will know if the child is getting good nutrition or not.
Another indicator is the child's activities. If the child always looks tired and sleepy, wanting to just sit down and do nothing much, that is an indicator of nutritional deficiency or some nutritional problems.
I always tell parents that if children have some nutritional deficiency you'll find they are lethargic, slow, don't participate in activities and they easily fall ill the minute they are exposed to rain. That is an indicator that a child is not doing well.
When I was working with the Government we used to see children who didn't eat anything except junk food. They replaced their normal meals with junk food. They would have anaemia, vitamin deficiency problems and stunted growth. Even in school they wouldn't perform well because they would always be tired. Good nutrition for children is very important. Having wholesome snacks is very important to support the child's nutrition.
Sometimes we make the error of classifying food as bad food or good food. There's no such thing as bad or good food, just bad nutrition because even junk food can be turned into good food if you only have it once in a while. It becomes bad when you have it every day.
Mazwin Mokhtar, mother of two aged six and eight:
I seldom give my children sweets and they don't ask for it. They like the crisps though but they don't have it every day. We try not to give it to them every day.
I let them have it because they want it and even if I say 'No' they will buy it in school. They see their friends eating crisps and they also want to eat it.
I usually ask them to eat their meal first before they have the crisps and not to have it on an empty stomach.
I have told them that if they want crisps I will take them after school to go and buy it. In school, I want them to have proper meals. They don't always listen to me but so far they have no health problems, either.
My children would love to have fast food every day, especially the younger one. Usually I buy them fast food about three times a week. They go for the fried chicken, fries and ice-cream.
My younger child doesn't like to eat rice at night. He will always ask for fast food but when we go to the fast food restaurant he won't eat much. He'll want the fries and the ice-cream. I am more worried that my children are not eating at night.
Shalina Shukri, 40, mother of four children aged four to 20 years of age:
I have lost count on the number of times the children have fast food in a month. As a working mother with little domestic help (who can't/won't/don't cook), we had to resort to fast food home delivery service or drive-through. Due to such conveniences, fast food is becoming a staple diet in my home. With the help of excellent advertisements as well as toys which are being packaged together with the meals, it has become THE kind of food that they prefer and love.
To me instant noodles is also a fast food and it has become the meals that my domestic help prefers to cook - because its fast, involves less cooking time and is less hassle regardless of whether we've bought meat, chicken and vegetables from the market. The fresh food are usually left frozen in the freezer until I have the time and strength to cook them during weekends.
As for junk food like crisps, only my youngest child is adamant on having it daily. She's only four years old and can be very persistent. No matter how strongly we insist that she takes her cereal or rice first - she would be bawling very, very loudly for the crisps. I cannot remember how this started for her or who encouraged her but I'm a bit worried, and I might make her give it up 'cold turkey' soon.
Healthwise she is okay and the doctors confirm this too - she's active and her physical as well as mental growth development is okay. Although she is not reading yet, she recognises alphabets and numbers and she's great with the Sony PlayStation 2 as well as Internet games - I cannot challenge her when it comes the mastering the small mouse and the arrow keys on the laptop.
Thankfully all my kids are healthy and none of them are obese or overweight.
I do worry about their eating habits as I do not want the junk food situation to continue excessively because anything excessive will be bad in the long run. Another thing I do not like is the probability that sometimes this habit develops because it's less work for the domestic helper.
As adults, we should know better and inculcate all the good things such as good nutritious food, knowledge and influence about good food and good eating habits, good social skills and good habits overall.
I think that having good support from the whole environment - domestic help, school/daycare and most of all parents - can help to curb the problem of bad eating habits.
Thankfully, my older kids seem to have outgrown junk food and fast food. I think this is due to their own awareness, the philosophy of 'you are what you eat' and the need to look good.
During the school holidays and if we're not travelling anywhere, the children would prefer to go to nenek and atuk's house in the kampung where my mum will fuss and cook for them. These are times that my kids and parents look forward to and I would envy them because then I would be stuck at work in KL salivating over the delicious home cooked meals that I would be missing.
I am very aware about nutrition for my son who is now 14 months old. I is so importante to to set good fondation on their eating habit. I home cook every meal he eat in the first few months. We nearly never eat fast/ junk food as most of the time my son prefer eating the cut fruit I pack for him. I also encourage him to move a lot like going to the park and in the pool.
As parents I beleived that giving good eating habits to our children is the best gift we can give then as as my grand mother use to say if you don't have health to have much.
I believe that kids should have the right nutrition when growing up. Junk food isn't one of them. Yes, we cannot avoid them forever, but during their young age (1 - 7) when we can still monitor them thoroughly, it's best to give them less of the junk food, else they'd also be 'addicted' to them
My son is 18months old and we give him some junk food occasionally. We think that it is important to let him try everything edible so that he will not be deprive of any. We will teach him moderation and hopefully by the time he goes to school, he knows how to control his junk food intake. There is a saying that the prohibited fruit is always tastier. We do not want the over-controlling to back fire in future when he has his freedom to make decision for himself eventually. Having said that, we always try to give him healthy snacks to replace junk food such as cheese which is salty, koko crunch, honey star, fruits etc. The worst junk food ever giving to him is chocolate and japanese vege potato crackers. Since we now have a choice and can affort more expensive food, we make it a point only to give him high quality (also expensive) chocolate and junk food, hopefully they are better than the 'cheap' junk food