Eating well and staying physically active are crucial to keeping a healthy heart. And it’s never too early to begin.
Since the 1970s, the percentage of U.S. children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled. Being obese boosts a child’s risk of developing hypertension and type 2 diabetes, conditions that contribute to heart disease. And nearly 80 percent of kids ages 6 to 19 don’t get enough physical activity, further increasing their heart disease risk.
To keep your kids’ hearts humming, try the following:
Hearty Eating Tips
- Kids get lots of their daily calories from snacks, and many children eat too little fruit. Offer a banana, a cup of grapes or unsweetened applesauce, or sliced apples or berries on top of low-fat or fat-free yogurt. Other good snack choices include a cup of cherry or grape tomatoes, unsalted nuts, and air-popped popcorn.
- Limit sweetened drinks. Toddlers ages 1 to 3 years should have no more than 4 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice a day. For kids ages 4 to 6 years, limit juice to 4 to 6 ounces a day, and kids ages 7 to 18 should have no more than 8 ounces a day.
- When you’re out at fast-food restaurants, encourage your kids to choose a fruit cup or salad over French fries. But if they must get fries, encourage sharing to help limit the fat, sodium, and calories they’re consuming.
- Let your kids select a new fruit or veggie for dinner. How about jicama, bok choy, star fruit, or papaya?
- Buy older kids an activity tracker. It can count their steps and may motivate them to move more.
- Plan time for the family to exercise together. Go for a bike ride, toss a softball, play tag, or take walks.
- Let your children help with yard work: raking, weeding, and planting. Older kids can also walk the dog and mow the lawn.
- Encourage your kids to experiment with different types of physical activity so they can find something they really enjoy.
Screen Screen Time
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there is a link between heavy media use and a child’s body mass index.
The AAP recommends avoiding digital media like television and computers in children younger than 18 to 24 months (except video chats). Around 18 to 24 months, parents can begin to introduce educational programs, but the AAP recommends parents watch the shows with their children.
For kids ages 2 through 5, the AAP suggests limiting screen time to one hour of quality programming per day.
Starting Heart Health Young
Healthy eating contributes to a sense of well-being and is a key factor in the prevention of many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and more. Encouraging healthy eating at an early age is important because many behaviors adopted when a person is young, are more likely to be maintained into adulthood. Although healthy eating helps, it is not the sole preventer of heart problems and children may still be susceptible.