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For the first time since the US government has been collecting data on it, the top five disabilities affecting U.S. children are no longer physical problems, but rather, mental problems, as reported recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Additionally, almost 8 percent of children now have a disability that limits their activity, a four-fold increase since 1960.

One of the suggested reasons for the increase in mental health disorders is the, “exposure to new or more environmental toxins during pregnancy and early childhood.” Improvements in diagnosis were also suggested as a contributor to the increased rate. Although conclusions about what has caused the increase are premature, we will certainly be seeing more research in the coming years.

“In terms of reduced economic outcomes, mental health issues in childhood are a serious problem, way bigger than obesity,” stated James P. Smith, a researcher of child health histories. The report stated that only about half of children with mental health problems get any kind of services, highlighting the gravity of the issue.

Bruce Lanphear, professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Canada, stated that prevention of children’s disabilities in the first place will be more effective than treating them. “Children, who are more vulnerable than adults to adverse effects from environmental toxins are sometimes exposed to numerous chemicals that may be contributing to mental and developmental problems,” stated Lanphear.

The report went on to cite studies linking environmental exposures to mental health in children, including, “the association of black carbon (an airborne byproduct of fossil-fuel combustion) with reduced verbal and nonverbal intelligence and poor memory; of low lead exposure with lower IQ scores; prenatal exposure to tobacco with ADHD; and organophosphate pesticides, mercury, and PCBs with ADHD. Lamphear’s own research found associations between prenatal exposure to bisphenol A and depressive symptoms, anxiety, and hyperactivity in young girls.”

We can no longer deny or turn our backs on the fact that environmental toxins are taking an enormous toll on our health.

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A recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found a three-fold increase in metabolic syndrome in children eating the least amount of dietary fiber when compared to the group eating the most. There were no differences when consumption of saturated fat or cholesterol was analyzed however.

The researchers recommend focusing on increasing fiber in the diet, and not worrying so much about finding low-fat foods. That does not mean teens should fill their diets with fat-filled foods, but it does mean seeking out nutrient-dense foods high in fiber.

Most low-fat foods today are those processed foods that have been filled with sugar to make up for lack of taste that comes with low-fat options. Replacing fat with sugar in foods is what has contributed to the current obesity and diabetes epidemic this country now faces. Up to 30 percent of teen’s dietary intake comes from beverages and sugary snacks.

But change can be tough. Joseph Carlson, the lead researcher, stated, “The trick is getting people into the groove finding the foods that they enjoy and that are convenient.”

The statistics are screaming at us from many different sources. Our diets and lifestyle have to change in order for us to see significant health improvements. This begins in childhood. ReNew Life founder Brenda Watson recommends that adults consume at least 35 grams of fiber daily. For children and teens, we recommend adding 5 grams to their age. So a 13-year-old should eat 18 grams of fiber daily. How can you add fiber back into your diet, and the diet of your family? For more information, visit ReNew Life’s fiber supplements page.

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