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Start Your Kids on a Heart-healthy Plan

February 05, 2019

You’re there to help your children with their homework, and you remind them to brush their teeth. But have you helped them do something good for their hearts lately?

It’s easy to think that only adults need to be concerned about having a healthy heart, but it’s never too early to start establishing a heart-healthy lifestyle for your children as well.

Here’s why: Even though kids rarely get heart disease, the risk factors leading to adult heart disease—including the gradual buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in arteries—can begin in childhood. This can put kids at future risk for a heart attack or even a stroke when they grow up.

And the chances of that happening increase when kids develop heart disease risk factors such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

“By measuring changes in a child’s BMI (body mass index, a ratio of a person’s height to weight), we can predict who will be obese by the age of six,” says Harvey Hahn, MD, cardiologist with Kettering Health Network. “There’s a certain level of body fat that your body wants to be at, so the easiest way to avoid fighting your weight your whole life is to be at a normal weight as early as possible.”

 

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Since February is American Heart Month, now is a great time to make changes that can help your kids—and the whole family—prevent heart disease.

Dr. Hahn recommends following the “5-2-1 Almost None” rule with your children, where they should incorporate five or more fruits and veggies, two hours of screen time or less, one hour of play and almost no sugary drinks. Click here for a complete toolkit.

Serve “real” healthy foods. Saturated fats and trans fats can raise the risk of heart disease. When shopping for your family, choose foods whole, not processed, foods and limit foods that have trans fats—such as cookies, cakes, crackers and frozen pizza. Make sure they are getting at least five fruits and veggies a day, and avoid sugar-filled drinks such as juice and energy drinks as much as possible.

Encourage play. Get your kids out and running around for at least one hour a day.

“Call it ‘play time’ rather than exercise,” Dr. Hahn suggests. That way, your kids will see it less as a chore and more as a family-oriented, fun activity.

You should also limit the amount of time your children spend in front of screens because, most often, that’s time they’re spending not being active.

“Most of the data shows two hours of screen time a day, max,” says Dr. Hahn. “That might be watching one movie—but getting on Facebook, texting, and watching videos online all count as screen time.”

Get your children checkups. Along with assessing overall health, a doctor can check a child’s weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Be sure all the adults in the family get their checkups too.