What Parents Need to Know about Ultra-Processed Foods

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. A pediatric registered dietitian talks about why consuming too many ultra-processed foods can be bad for your child's health.

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CLEVELAND – September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. According to a recent study, 2/3 of calories consumed by children and adolescents come from ultra-processed foods.

So, what can be done to stop this unhealthy trend?

“Anything they can do to swap out more whole foods for those ultra-processed foods is going to help,” said Evelyn Benden, pediatric registered dietitian for Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “So, a lot of times we talk about limiting the treats or dessert foods to special occasions and encourage kids to snack on fruits or vegetables instead.”

Ultra-processed foods are typically high in calories, fat, sugar, salt and low in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Some examples include cereals, candy, cookies, soft drinks, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and fries.

Eating too many of these foods can put a child at risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. They can also affect a child’s mood and energy levels.

Benden said it’s never too late to improve your child’s diet. However, the earlier they learn what’s healthy, the better off they’ll be.

“If you have a really busy lifestyle or your kids are really busy and cooking from scratch is really hard, sometimes picking foods that are convenient but not as processed might work,” she noted. “You can pick things that are frozen, frozen chicken breasts and cook those, sometimes things that are canned. They’re OK. Just make sure they’re low-sodium if you can.”

And while food is a big part of a child’s health, so is physical activity. Benden said it’s especially important for kids who are learning from home and aren’t getting a lot of movement in their day.

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