Now’s the time to protect your kid’s heart health

January 03, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Many of us don’t think about the health of our hearts until we’re older. But heart problems can affect people of all ages, including children. Some kids are born with heart problems, but others develop them because of an unhealthy lifestyle.

Today, nearly one in three American children and teens is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is causing a slew of health problems among kids that weren’t seen before. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that children who are overweight from ages 7 to 13 have a greater risk of developing heart disease as early as age 25.

What’s more, childhood obesity quadruples the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, further increasing the risk for heart disease. Smoking and physical inactivity also increase heart disease risk. These risk factors all have something in common. They are largely preventable.

Adopting heart-healthy habits early on can provide lifelong benefits. What steps can your kids take today to protect their heart health in the future? Make these part of your family’s daily routine:

  1. Eat heart-healthy – Involve your kids in planning a weekly menu that includes a balance of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings), fiber-rich whole grains, lean protein and dairy (at least 2 servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, yogurt) each day. Encourage plenty of water daily and limit sugary drinks and processed/junk foods. Cooking is more fun with kids.

  2. Get plenty of exercise – Encourage at least an hour of physical activity each day (even if it’s for 10-15 minutes at a time). Try different activities until your child finds something they enjoy (e.g., brisk walking, sports, karate, swimming, gymnastics, dance, playing tag, jump rope, etc.). How to get your couch potato kid moving.

  3. Sleep well – Quality sleep will help your child fight off illness and stay healthy. Kids should get 10-11 hours of sleep per night. You can help your child develop good sleep habits by creating a regular sleep routine. Get your kids to bed at a decent hour.

  4. Limit screen time – Smartphones, tablets, TVs and other screen-based devices are making kids more sedentary, which increases the risk for obesity among other issues. Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen to no more than 1-2 hours each day (not counting school work). Keep your child from becoming a media-addicted zombie.

  5. Talk about what’s bad for your heart – Talk to your kids about avoiding unhealthy habits, such as smoking. And quit smoking yourself! Children who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and many other health issues when they get older.

  6. Get regular medical check-ups – Every child between ages 9-11 should have a fasting lipid profile test, since very high cholesterol levels can increase heart disease risk at an early age. Some children have an inherited condition that causes a buildup of bad cholesterol, so children with a parent who has had a heart attack or stroke may need to be screened even earlier. Know your family history.

  7. Be heart-healthy as a family – If you want your kids to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle, you have to set an example. Send the message that good heart health is important to your whole family by having everyone do their part. Learn how to eat healthy and stay active as a family.

Getting heart-healthy is a journey that begins in childhood. Create heart-healthy habits for your entire family now to protect your child’s heart later in life.

Young Hearts 4 Life program

Most of the problems that cause the sudden cardiac arrest in young adults are related to heart rhythm and are detectable by EKG, a non-invasive test of the heart’s electrical activity. Young Hearts 4 Life (YH4L) is an EKG-based screening program open to any students (not just athletes). A YH4L screening led to the discovery of an inherited heart condition in 15-year-old track athlete Chris Storm. Read Chris's story.

Learn more about YH4L.

Related blogs:

Learn how to help your child overcome childhood obesity

Help your kids develop healthy habits in the new year

10 ways to keep your family heart healthy

Need a primary care doctor for your child? Edward-Elmhurst Health has hundreds of board-certified physicians to choose from. You can book online today to set up your first appointment.

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