Doctors across the country are now routinely seeing something that used to be rare: 5-year-old children with kidney stones.

An article by Laurie Tarkin in The New York Times (10/27/08) quoted Dr. Caleb P. Nelson of Harvard Medical School, co-director of a brand new kidney stone center in kids Body a pediatric hospital. Dr. Nelson said, “The older doctors would say in the ’70s and ’80s, they’d see a kid with a stone once every few months. Now we see kids once a week or less.”

There’s a reason that kidney stones had always been a disease of the middle aged: It used to take several decades to abuse your body enough for the stones to form. But now our children are taking in so much bad nutrition, including massive amounts of salt – from French fries, processed lunch meat, canned soups, and those sports drinks they love so much – that they’re able to do 40 years’ worth of damage to their bodies in less than ten years’ time.

“There’s no question in my mind that it is largely dietary and directly related to the childhood obesity epidemic,” said Dr. John C. Pope IV, who’s associated with a children’s hospital in Nashville.

Is there a solution? You bet. Better nutrition – cut out the processed and fast foods – and better hydration (a lot fewer sports drinks, a lot more pure water).

But that’s easier said than done. It’s certainly easier to feed children something they like – a category that’s more likely to include milk shakes than broccoli. Fortunately, there are some kid-friendly weight-loss programs on the market – featuring healthy shakes and bars, even electrolyte drinks without all the sugar and salt of the name brands.

Three key things to look for when choosing a weight loss and nutrition program for your children:

  1. Ease of use. Chances are you’re not going to replace fast food and processed food with organic, cooked-from-scratch masterpieces. If you had that kind of time, you would have been cooking that way all along. So you need a nutritional program that will be easy to prepare.
  2. Smart sweetness. Kids are always going to crave sweets. But be smart: Replace refined sugar – which causes your kids to get a “sugar high” and then crash – with sweeteners that won’t raise their blood sugar too quickly. Sweeteners like fructose (NOT “high fructose corn syrup”) and stevia.
  3. Complete nutrition. Many diet products feature protein from milk or soy. However, some experts believe that the most effective protein comes from whey. Look for the highest grade whey you can find, and if possible, choose “undenatured” whey (which basically means “uncooked”). And make sure they’re getting minerals in their diet. You can’t digest vitamins without minerals.