12 November 2006

Children and Heart Disease

According to this HealthDay News story, "Children with heart disease risk factors—obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol—already show indications of fatty build-up in their arteries that could cause heart attacks when they're adults." According to the story, the researchers found that "In many cases, children with heart disease risk factors showed early signs of atherosclerosis."

These findings are not new, but they do corroborate earlier findings. For example, in the revised and updated 7th edition of Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care (1998), Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. Steven Parker note that "The evidence in adults couldn’t be more compelling: excessive animal fat, cow’s milk, protein, and the high number of calories in the typical American diet have been linked to high cholesterol levels, coronary heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers" (p. 327). They go on to note that "these diseases have their roots in childhood" (p. 327) and report that "Fatty deposits are now commonly found in the coronary arteries of children on a typical American diet by age three" (p. 327). Drs. Spock and Parker point out that by age 12, 70% of American children have plaque deposits in their coronary arteries and that by age 21 almost all young American adults have them (p. 327). Clearly, we are failing in this country where our children's health is concerned.

While the HealthDay News story doesn't provide much in the way of guidance to parents who would like to feed their children a heart-healthy, cancer-preventative diet, Dr. Spock provides that much-needed information. To curb the epidemic of atherosclerosis plaguing our country, Dr. Spock recommends feeding children over age 2 a plant-based diet devoid of meat, poultry, and dairy products (pp. 328-333). What should we be feeding our children? Again, according to Dr. Spock, we should be feeding them a diet centered around whole grains, green leafy vegetables and other vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, and seeds (pp. 328-331). If you care about your children and want to help them avoid the scourges of coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers, I encourage you to get a copy of Dr. Spock's enlightening book and read the chapter entitled "Raising Physically Healthy Children." Your children's future health is in your hands. As an added benefit, if you elect to eat that same plant-based diet, you will see health benefits as well.

This brings me to an idea that I borrow, with slight modification, from philosopher Peter Wenz [See his Environmental Ethics Today.]. The idea is that of synergistic ethics. According to synergistic ethics, when human beings simultaneously respect persons, animals, and the environment, typically all three benefit and we are left with a win, win, win situation. When humans stop eating animal products and instead eat a plant-based diet as described above, they will be consuming far less saturated fat and they will be consuming no dietary cholesterol whatsoever. As a result, they will greatly reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes (and all of its complications, including limb amputations), and some cancers. That is a significant human benefit. When we stop feeding meat and animal products to our children, their future health prospects improve dramatically. Another human benefit, and one we clearly owe our children. As more and more humans refrain from eating meat and other animal products, fewer and fewer animals will be subjected to the institutionalized cruelties inherent in factory farming and modern agribusiness. That is a significant benefit for the animals. If humans were to eat plant-foods directly, rather than cycle them through animals, we would need to grow far fewer crops [because, e.g., it takes 13 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef] and that would dramatically reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides being pumped into our environment. A significant benefit for the environment. Eating grains directly would also significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil, for according to David Pimentel, Professor of Insect Ecology and Agricultural Sciences at Cornell University, it takes an average of 28 kilocalories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 kilocalorie of animal protein, compared with 3.3 kilocalories of fossil energy to produce 1 kilocalorie of grain protein, making animal production on average more than 8 times less energy efficient than grain production. Pumping 8 times fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere would be another win for the environment, and one that would contribute to our national security to boot. The bottom line: We owe it to our children to do right by them and feed them an optimally-nutritious, heart-healthy, cancer-preventative plant-based diet as outlined above. Doing so will benefit our children, the animals, and the environment, while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. That is ethical synergy at work.

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