Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said in A.D. 460, “All disease begins in the gut.” An infant is born with a “clean slate” intestinal tract ready to be colonized with healthy, assorted bacteria. This diverse “garden” of bacteria is sensitive and needs to be cultivated for optimal health throughout the life span, which makes it critical to focus on decreasing gut inflammation through healthy dietary choices from an early age.
Children–defined as under 18 years of age—make up approximately 22.2% of the total U.S. population and are projected to remain relatively stable percentage-wise through the next decade. This demographic presents huge opportunities for the digestive health category that has nearly tripled in size in the last decade to reach US$2.96 billion in 2018, with sales predicted to reach $3.9 billion by 2021, according to Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ).
Cultivating a healthy gut is the best way to have normal stool, a sign of a healthy microbiome. And if people aren’t nurturing their digestive systems with healthy choices from the beginning, as Hippocrates emphasized, the evolution of many inflammatory diseases can emerge, even in infancy. Examples of poor gut health in kids include milk-protein allergies, chronic constipation, chronic abdominal pain, eczema, ear infections, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), allergies—including both environmental and food—asthma and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Every organ system can truly be impacted. The best and most valuable preventive approach is to engrain in consumers both the importance of daily healthy food choices and the concept of food as medicine. Imagine the potential health care savings with real nutrition education and functional food and beverage products that support a healthy gut. Preventing emergency room (ER) visits by simply educating families on bowel habits would be monumentally helpful. Properly identifying abnormal bowel habits in toddlers and children can help physicians address dietary modifications that can possibly reverse constipation, as well as remedy chronic diseases from which they might have been suffering.
To read this article in its entirety, check out the Children and toddler nutrition: Winning strategies to feed the future – digital magazine.
Kristin Struble, M.D., F.A.A.P., has been a practicing pediatrician since 2001 and has been with Camelback Pediatrics in Phoenix since 2004. She earned her undergraduate degree in nutritional science and her medical degree from the University of Arizona. Struble is the author of How to be a “Poop” Detective, a humorous children’s book that focuses on “poop” and how it relates to diet and overall gut health. She has served as a scientific advisor, physician educator and spokesperson for numerous companies including SmartyPants, Wellements and Squatty Potty.