Foreign Policy Blogs

Is the Western Diet Causing More Harm to Some Children?

We all know the obvious culprits of the Western diet that can be harmful to our children’s health…the dreaded fast food, but could our diet actually harm children in the developing world even on a good day?

According to new research from Italian scientists in the August 2-6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, who studied the effect of the diet on children in Europe on a Western diet in comparison to that of children in Africa.  The results showed an great variance in the bacterial cultures of the stomachs.  Children on a Western diet were found to have a prevalence of the bacteria which may have a predisposition to obesity and food allergies.

“The problem is we eat too much cheap, convenient food because it’s our lifestyle and that can contribute to allergies,” added Marianne Grant, a registered dietitian and health educator at Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi.  “Our bodies are still stuck in hunter/gatherer day. We’re supposed to be eating more fruits and vegetables and we should be doing a lot of physical activity to compensate,” added Grant. “I tell people that if you want fried chicken now, you go to the drive-through and get it. If you wanted fried chicken then, you had to hunt, find the chicken, kill it, bring it back, pluck its feathers, clean out the innards and cook it. And if you wanted it fried, you had to have ground your own flour.” (Businessweek).

While the study did not look directly at individual food allergies or obesity it does leave one to wonder, especially in light of the increased levels of food allergies in Western children.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children with food allergies increased 18 percent from 1997 to 2007 and some 3 million children under the age of 18 years-old had a food or digestive allergy in 2007.

The decrease in richness of gut bacteria in Westerners may have something to do with the rise in allergies in industrialized countries, said Dr. Paolo Lionetti of the department of pediatrics at Meyer Children Hospital at the University of Florence. Sanitation measures and vaccines in the West may have controlled infectious disease, but they decreased exposure to a variety of bacteria may have opened the door to these other ailments (CNN).

As someone who knows children with sever food allergies to nuts and other foods I know that its no laughing matter.  I myself now battle food allergies in my adult life, which was nothing I ever imagined and now realize the not only severity of such allergies, but now see’s the connection to the toxins and additives in our Western diet.  It was suddenly in my 30’s that I found my self with more and more ‘problems’, first diagnosed with IBS in my 20’s and resolved to deal with what I referred to as a “funky stomach”.  I cut much of the processed foods, any white carbs,  sodas and fast foods bar the ‘special occassion’ and I felt and looked better (please note I never was obese nor went on a diet for any other reason than health purposes). Soon however I found that cutting such items was not enough and suddenly I began to get sick, which seemed to be related to anything and everything, but all I knew is I was eating more and getting smaller as nothing would hold and that was only part of my problems.  Test after test…leukemia and the whole lot…and not a lot of return and so I did all I knew I continued to play with and adjust my diet and go for more tests…to discover that gluten was my bodies big enemy.  It therefore surprises me little that Western diet may be the cause…I am the healthiest I have ever been living off of lots of berries, nuts, fish and veggies. What we feed our kids now truly effects them as adults.



Cassandra Clifford
Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict