Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by Children’s Hospital.
Get a Jump Start on Heart Disease Prevention With Your Little Ones
February is National Heart Month! To observe this very important month of awareness for heart disease, we would like to share a few ways to work to prevent Heart Disease before it is even a problem – in childhood! While heart disease is primarily a health issue in adults, and not children, many of the factors that cause heart disease begin in childhood. According to the CDC, one in every six children in the U.S. are considered obese, a statistic that concerns doctors and parents alike, as many of the unhealthy habits that contribute to childhood obesity can lead to more serious health risks in adulthood.
Some of the causes of adult heart disease that start in childhood and can be prevented are:
- Plaque buildup or fat deposits in the arteries
- Unhealthy changes in cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
While it’s true that the risk of heart disease risk can run in families, a healthy diet can help every child reduce that risk. If heart disease does run in your family, talk with your child’s pediatrician about whether to have his or her cholesterol and blood pressure measured regularly, in addition to watching his or her weight.
Lead by example in the kitchen
A balanced diet is important for children and teens, not just to prevent heart disease, but also to encourage healthy growth and development. To ensure the heart-healthiness of your diet, you should monitor both calories and fats. Keeping daily calories at the right level is important, because consuming too many calories can cause weight gain, which will make the heart work harder. The USDA recommends limiting unhealthy fats, particularly saturated fats, in a child’s diet
Below are tips for creating a heart-healthy start for your child:
- If you can, breastfeed infants as long as possible. Aim for a full year, even as you introduce solid foods.
- Feed your child mostly fruits and vegetables, with whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.
- Watch portion sizes. The recommended daily amounts of healthy foods for children are:
- 2 ounces of lean protein (fish, chicken) every day for children between 2 and 3 years old, 3-4 ounces for children 4 to 8 years old; and 5-6 ounces for children 9 to 18 years old
- 2 cups of low-fat dairy for children under 8, and 3 cups for children 9 to 18 years
- 1.5 cups of fruit
- 2.5 cups of vegetables
- 6 ounces of whole grains
- Avoid eating fast food.
- When eating out, try make healthy choices and keep portion sizes reasonable.
- Avoid sugary drinks and instead, stick to water and low-fat milk.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that children under 1 year should not be given any fruit juice. The AAP also recommends no more than 4 ounces of 100% juice for children ages 1 to 3 years, no more than 4-6 ounces for children ages 4 to 6, and, no more than 8 ounces of juice per day for children age 7 and older.
- Total fat should be no more than 30% to 35% of total daily calories for children 2 to 3 years old and 25% to 35% of calories for those up to 18 years old. Choose healthier fats: the mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
- Choose whole grains like brown rice over refined grains like white rice for added nutrients and fiber.
- Don’t make children finish everything on their plate. Allow children to tell you when they feel full and are done.
Encourage a heart healthy lifestyle
Many of the daily choices that children and adolescents make can affect their risk for heart disease. Here are some lifestyle and exercise choices that you can use to encourage children and help protect them from developing heart disease in the future:
- Get about 1 hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week in childhood. This can be broken up throughout the day.
- Limit screen time to less than 2 hours per day.
- Don’t smoke. Ban smoking in your house and avoid places where your child will be exposed to second-hand smoke.
Remember that you are the most important role model for your kids. Your children and teens will learn their best heart healthy choices by watching you.
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About Dr. Brumund
Michael Brumund, MD is a congenital cardiologist practicing at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. He attended medical school at the Medical College of Georgia and then completed his pediatric residency and pediatric cardiology fellowship at the same institution. Dr. Brumund joined the faculty at his alma mater before leaving for private practice in Baton Rouge, where he spent 16 years before joining the staff at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans in January of 2017.
Dr. Brumund is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and is the Director of Outpatient Cardiology with outpatient clinics in New Orleans, Covington, Denham Springs and Eunice. His inpatient responsibilities are dedicated to working in the cardiac intensive care unit as one of the Pediatric Cardiac Intensivists at Children’s Hospital. He is one of four board-certified specialists in Adult Congenital Heart Disease in the state of Louisiana and serves at the medical director of the Adult Congenital Program.