Child obesity is an expanding epidemic. Less than a year ago, the American Heart Association reported that one in three children and teens in the United States are obese. While these statistics can be attributed to a number of different things, many causes of obesity can also directly correlate with dental health as well.
Of course, diet is the primary factor of weight gain, weight control, and overall health. Today in 2017, our understanding of nutrition is better than it ever has been. More and more, individuals are educating themselves about the molecular structure of food and how it affects different areas of our body.
When you eat better, you feel better. When one desires being healthy over looking thin, it can have exponentially better and longer-lasting results; both mentally and physically. Our children are no different. In fact, children need to consume certain fatty foods as a part of their development; and rarely should a focus for a child be to “lose weight” unless there is a significant obesity problem. Most importantly, the eating habits they establish today will set the tone for their adult eating lifestyle as well.
However, it’s not just WHAT you eat; but how much, and when. Recent studies have been uncovering the issues behind nighttime eating, and found that it not only disrupts our eating cycle and cortisol levels (a hormone that regulates metabolism, digestion, and hunger) but can also be directly correlated to cavities and tooth decay.
In order to be clinically considered a nocturnal eater, it means you have to consume a fourth or more of your daily calories after the evening meal. For many, this looks like a large dessert or late dinner after having eating something earlier in the evening (like a small supper), plus, waking up at night to have another snack. A fourth may seem like a lot, but if these foods are higher in calories, it’s not very difficult to do. The reason why this can lead to weight gain is simple: when your body is sleeping, it burns significantly fewer calories than when awake. If you sleep on a fourth of your food instead of using it for energy, it is stored as fat.
Raiding the fridge and the pantry late at night are actually more common than you think, and can be alarmingly rampant in teenagers, especially those who stay up late regularly playing video games or other activities that can be accompanied by “vegging out” and snacking. If these habits continue past adolescence, the data doesn’t look good. Not only does nighttime snacking disrupt the biological clock, but it can also affect oral health as well. A Danish study took a collective of adults ages 30-60 that identified as midnight snackers and tested them twice over the course of six years. What they found was that those who ate late at night lost more teeth, despite medical or genetic background – even those who smoked did not alter this factor.
What the research suggested was that because we produce less saliva at night, midnight snackers have the disadvantage of not being able to rinse away bits of food in their mouth very well. This can be especially true if one goes to bed immediately after eating and does not take the time to brush their teeth. Chips, candy, and other carbohydrates break down into simple sugars, and after sitting in a dry mouth for several hours can turn to plaque. Plaque can turn to decay if not properly removed.
If your child struggles with hunger late at night, instead of opting for a snack high in carbs and sugar, offer a handful of baby carrots or an apple with peanut butter. If the need to snack persists, try eating dinner a little later or having a healthy snack an hour or so after dinner. Working together, you both can break the cycle and ease bad habits into healthier ones!