Kids and The Low-Carb Lifestyle

Armen Hareyan's picture

Some pediatricians have been prescribing a low-carb diet for a select group of children for decades, and what they have seen is very unsettling. The ketogenic diet was developed more than 80 years ago in order to control seizures that did not respond to the anticonvulsant medications that were available then. There are now dozens of medications that help to control seizures but the ketogenic diet is still used. The good news is that it does stop or slow down the frequency of seizures. The bad news is that it has some unhealthy effects on the heart.

The ketogenic diet is not identical to the Atkins diet. Although it contains very little carbohydrate it also has little protein, and 90 percent of calories come from fat. As you might imagine, keeping a child on this very unpalatable diet is every difficult, and many parents simply give up when faced with tantrums and food-stealing.

In a study done at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, children on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet developed marked increases of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, all of which are risk factors for coronary artery disease. These effects persisted for at least 24 months. Children on a ketogenic diet are also at risk of kidney stones, which are usually rare during childhood.

There's plenty of evidence that low blood sugar levels, an inevitable consequence of a low-carbohydrate diet, produce memory and mood problems, irritability and aggressive behavior. Those who live with diabetic patients are aware that an overdose of insulin causes a severe drop in blood sugar that can lead to seizures or death. It doesn't take any great leap of logic to conclude that a diet that results in frequent low blood sugar levels isn't good for the brain. For the developing brain of a child, even an adolescent, it could lead to individual tragedy and social disaster.

There's no single solution to childhood obesity


What a child eats is only one factor in what is clearly an epidemic of childhood obesity. At any age, weight gain comes from using too few calories as well as eating too many. Computer games, television viewing, lack of physical education classes, reliance on Mom for transportation, disrupted family conditions and fear of crime in urban neighborhoods are just a few of the reasons why physical activity has taken a nosedive among children in the past generation, a period during which type 2 diabetes in children has risen tenfold. Careful analysis shows that almost all the fat gain of modern children is due to their sedentary habits, not to their eating habits.

Diabetes will soon be an intolerable burden

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report that should have stunned the actuaries of health insurance companies. Of children born in the year 2000, one-third will develop type 2 diabetes as adults. For African-American and Hispanic females that number will be approximately 50 percent.

Who will pay for the health care costs of one-third of our population, a group that will be unable to support themselves because of heart disease, kidney failure, amputation of limbs and blindness? The very fact that modern medicine is able to prolong the lives of these sufferers only adds to the enormous cost of extra decades of survival. Directors of kidney dialysis centers already agree that they are behind in the capacity to treat the present population of diabetics whose kidneys have been destroyed. Yet, this is where our children are headed, as even 6-year-olds are now being diagnosed with the disease.

Healthy nutrition in a free fall

French fries are vegetables in only the loosest possible use of the word, but they comprise 25 percent of the average child's vegetable intake. The value of a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables cannot be overestimated. Heart disease and cancer are much less common in persons with a high intake of these foods, but on any given day in the United States, 40 percent of children have not eaten a single vegetable. In actual surveys of children's eating habits, no fruit or vegetable