Good Health for African American Kids (cont.)

Moderator: {question presented} Your book begins with a chapter on "preparing for pregnancy"... why is this an important approach to children's health?

Dixon: I believe the old adage that good health begins in the womb... infant mortality and low-birth rate babies affect the African-American population adversely, twice as often as seen in the white population. Not only that, but low birth weight babies are more likely to be born with physical and mental handicaps, and if they survive, they may have behavioral problems in childhood as well. Infant mortality and low birth weight in African-Americans can be avoided with early and continuous prenatal care. Encouraging African-American women to get the care they need to give their babies a fighting chance to a healthy life - it's a good way to start the book, because it's not that suddenly the child is there and we don't think of nursing that child prior to delivery. That's one issue that African-Americans should consider.

Moderator: What sort of behavioral problems come up in early childhood as a result of poor nutrition during pregnancy?

Dixon: Certainly we believe that even from a psychological point of view not only regarding diet, but how a mother feels during pregnancy, how she nourishes herself, her overall stress free or stressful life... I believe that research supports and shows it's carried on for the growth of the fetus. If you talk to a child that's unborn in your womb, and there's a communication and bond that occurs between mother and infant, so do the stresses that occur within the fetus that carry over into childhood. This is a wonderful area that we're looking at, because as we see children that are misbehaving in class, or having emotional problems in class, we often look at parents and the time the mother was carrying the child, and under the circumstances in which conception occurred, and we often find that the mother has been troubled. At least knowing this in advance gives us some way to begin to nurture the child, even when they're young and start school... so we begin to see the problems and can understand why the problems may be occurring.

Moderator: {question presented} What are the "risk factors" that affect the health of African American kids?

Dixon: There are several risk factors. We talk about risk factors as being contributors to a certain disease, which identify those contributors. There are several risk factors that affect the health of African-American children. The cultural and social issues are poor nutrition or fatty diet, lack of physical exercise or activity, childhood stress, too much salt or sodium in the diet, smoking alcohol or the use of drugs, poverty, and along with poverty, exposure to lead and paint if the building is not safe, exposure to accidents, and on the genetic side.... parents who carry the sickle-cell gene, parents who have diabetes, parents with hypertension, and high-blood cholesterol.

Moderator: {question presented} Why should parents be concerned about the nutritional health of their children?

Dixon: Current research, and nutrition has probably been the least researched subject matter over the years... I'm beginning to gladly see a change in the last 10 years. What research is showing us today is that diseases we know of that occur in adulthood, begin in childhood. Cardiovascular is one we're beginning to know most about; one in particular is the Bogalusa Children's Story, a town in Louisiana, and we also know other diseases like hypertension, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, and we know that these health problems are showing up in young children. I believe that parents need to start helping their children to make lifestyle changes early, particularly when the family history of these diseases are prevalent.

Dixon: I believe that it's never too early to take measures to help improve your child's future or a child's future and potentially change the health outcome.

Dixon: Now, the research now suggests that we start earlier than the age of 2, when we look at the fat in the diet, or reducing the amount of fat... but many changes can be made in diet and the lifestyle practices of a young child without adverse effects on growth and development.

Moderator: {question presented} Lactose intolerance is a problem often cited in African American children... do you recommend that Black children avoid dairy products?

Dixon: Not necessarily. For those that are now familiar with lactose intolerance, it's a condition in which a person cannot digest milk-sugar or "lactose"... the "ose" on the end signifies sugar. The problem with lactose intolerance is GI or digestive symptoms usually occur... that is, gas or bloating, sometimes abdominal or intestinal cramping, and that's following a meal or beverage that does have lactose. A lot of people confuse lactose intolerance with allergy, and there's a distinct difference. I hear parents say that their child can't drink milk and is allergic to dairy products, but you have to understand that allergies are regarding the protein content of the food, rather than due to the sugar and the problem with absorption. I always caution parents to loosely use the term allergy, because the approaches would definitely be different. If one was having an allergic reaction to the protein, then one would have to avoid it. But in lactose intolerance, it may be a dose-related issue... a child may be able to tolerate 4 ounces of milk, but not 8 without having the intestinal symptoms. In that way, we may not have to alleviate milk or dairy products altogether. We may work within the dose that's tolerated. However in some, we may have to modify the diet altogether, but this is not a hard task to do. Some parents now are becoming vegetarians... and considering putting their kids on the same type of program. I don't have to advocate that parents who want their children to drink milk to discontinue it. But there's no harm if the child cannot drink dairy products.