By Karen Stokes
Encouraging heart healthy habits in your children from an early age not only lowers their risk of heart disease in the future but also teaches them to make better heart healthy choices.
How children are fed may be just as important as what they are fed, according to a 2020 scientific statement from the American Heart Association, “Caregiver Influences on Eating Behaviors in Young Children,” published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Parents and caregivers should be role models and create an environment where healthy food choices are encouraged, instead of controlling kids or talking about body weight create a positive environment.
Ways that parents can encourage healthy eating is by: providing consistent timing for meals, paying attention to a child’s verbal or non-verbal hunger and fullness cues, avoiding pressuring children to eat more than they wish to eat and allowing children to select what foods they want to eat from a selection of healthy choices.
Choose whole-grain breads and cereals so kids get more fiber. Include fruits and vegetables. Limit fat intake by avoiding fried foods and choosing healthier cooking methods, such as broiling, grilling, roasting, and steaming. Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Limit fast food and low-nutrient snacks, such as chips and candy, according to kids health.org.
The Center for Disease Control tells us that water is a healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages. Drinking water improves memory and attention, helps children maintain a healthy weight, reduces the risk for some chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Yet 1 in 5 children and adolescents do not drink any plain water during the day, and about half of school-aged children are under hydrated.
“We see in a lot of teenagers that lack of hydration results in symptoms of fatigue, poor attention and we end up seeing a lot of patients in clinic with dizziness and it’s not really anything that suggests that it’s a heart problem it’s most often an issue with hydration,” said Anoop K. Singh, MD Electrophysiology – Pediatrics, Pediatric Cardiology Children’s Wisconsin. “I think children should drink somewhere in the range of a half to one gallon of water a day. We’re really talking about fluids so it really doesn’t have to be just water but how you get your fluids is important.”
As published in 2018 by the American Heart Association says smartphones, tablets, TVs and other screen-based devices are making kids more sedentary – and sedentary behavior is tied to overweight and obesity in young people.
“Common sense media is knowing exactly what your child is doing on the screen and not just the amount of time they are on it and trying to balance whatever they’re doing on the screen with activities that are not screen related specifically either playing physical activity outside,” said Dr Singh.
Dr Singh suggests that generally children should get at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity. Kids not getting this consistently at school need to find this activity outside of school.
“Being outside doing cardiovascular activity has so many benefits because most of the time it’s a better use of your brain and it’s certainly creating that cardiovascular fitness that we know is a good habit to have throughout your life,” said Dr. Singh. “It’s not like we should be just active as kids, we should be active as adults too. You get those habits by being a child and being active and realizing how you enjoyed physical activity.”