Dr Zac Turner on the importance of healthy eating habits for kids


An Australian doctor has called for an immediate tax on this food, warning parents against a particularly dangerous treat.

Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week Dr Zac gets into healthy eating for kids.


Hi Dr Zac,I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw this meme and it got me thinking about my sister. My sister and I are from opposite worlds when it comes to what we feed our children. Just like the meme, I was horrified when I went to her fridge recently and opened the door to see nothing but processed food. The only thing green was the mouldy white bread. Our kids get along really well and they tend to play all day long but I already see a difference in their attitudes and appearances. I feel like an intervention is in order.

Surely my sister feeding her children this processed food will lead them down a road to serious health issues as an adult? What’s the damage of a processed diet on a child? — Jaimie, 34, Adelaide


We tell our children not to smoke cigarettes, but we will happily allow them full access to the kitchen cupboard or fast food on the way home from school.

We are what we eat and from cheeseburgers dripping in oil, to sipping on soft drinks laden with processed white sugar, it’s little wonder why our children and colleagues are behaving as they are. I predict that eating processed foods will be the next smoking.

In fact predicting this is like reading out the lotto numbers the day after, the horse has already bolted and the crisis that is food addiction is here.

In the next 20 years, our government will spend billions of dollars educating the public why junk food causes heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Unfortunately these messages may fall on deaf ears because the majority of them aren’t the picture of health and wellness either.

If I was a state premier, I would immediately tax all junk food and fast food restaurants 10 per cent with that money going towards education, health care, and hospitals. Think I’m crazy? Well, as far as I’m concerned — that’s the impact our poor diets are having on our health system and life expectancy.

The tax on cigarettes helps our health system, and the tax on petrol helps build better roads, so why not highly processed foods, which are slowly killing us. Have you ever seen the movie Wall-E? If nothing changes, that’s exactly how we will end up.

How can we stop this grim prediction from happening? By educating our children, and shaping their habits when they are young.

We should correct our own unhealthy food choices of the past by drawing a line in the sand and teaching kids why it‘s important to eat a balanced, healthy diet of wholefoods. And there’s no time to waste, we need to start today.

I believe there’s two main issues with children’s diets these days.

Firstly they are subject to a nutritional imbalance. Think of your diet by comparing it to a set of scales. The left side is saturated fats, processed sugars and salt, while the right side has higher proteins, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Your sister’s children’s diet would be heavily swayed to the left, which causes a myriad of short and long term side effects.

Children living with a nutritional imbalance display symptoms ranging from poor growth to obesity, mood swings, reduced concentration and increased tantrums. I can safely make the assumption that your children will tend to have more energy when playing, and your sister’s will tend to quickly become sluggish and tired.

The other problem with children’s diets is that it’s leading them down a path to obesity. Processed foods are severely detrimental to our health, and can negatively affect metabolism at a cellular level.

When children eat frozen fish fingers, they are creating insulin resistance and weak mitochondria which in turn cause fatigue, mood disorders and decreased concentration. Furthermore processed sugars, which are high glycaemic index (GI) nutrients, are the food equivalent of crack and stimulate many of the same addictive receptors that are causing havoc in our nation with drug addiction.

Patients will often come to me saying, “Why can’t I eat like I used to? As a kid I could eat a pizza and run a marathon, and now one slice adds two more layers to my chin.”

They are correct, young cells are resilient but they are also learning bad habits on the job. If you eat unhealthy as a child, your metabolism will be far worse as an adult compared to eating a healthy diet as a child.

Now I understand that it’s a lot easier to feed your child processed food than healthy food, but you need to realise that you are essentially giving your children a bottle of whiskey and cigarettes for dinner when you do. Your diet is one of the most important aspects of your life, it needs to be taken seriously even if it means a few tears are shed.

Here’s a few tips to get your children (and yourself) on board for healthy eating.

1. Turn your child into a chef

By getting your child safely involved in the cooking process, they are learning more about what they eat. Make cooking a game, and you’ll see they prefer to cook real meals than putting something into an oven or microwave.

2. Presentation is key

I know it takes more time, but cutting fruit and veggies into small pieces will get your children eating them. You could even try cutting them into fun shapes.

3. Never give up, and keep experimenting

My niece hates cooked carrots and broccoli, but loves eating them raw! Problem solved. I’m sorry but you owe your child a responsibility to look after their health. Ensuring a healthy diet means they will continue to be healthy as an adult.

Jaimie, sit your sister down and tell her she needs to change. Share with her your tips and tricks and make a meal plan with her. Start off easy and tell her to stick to the 2:5 ratio. Two fruits and five vegetables daily.

Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors. He was also a registered nurse and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.


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