Take charge of your child’s heart health by developing habits now that will reap benefits later in life. According to Colin Kane, M.D., pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Health℠ and Director of Cardiology Outreach at UT Southwestern, the most effective way to do this is to make healthy living a priority for the whole family.
“If a child sees that eating well and getting plenty of exercise is important to his mom, dad and other family members, he is much more likely to adopt a similar lifestyle as he gets older and eventually moves out of the house,” Dr. Kane says. “It’s not fair to tell the child to eat carrots and celery when he sees other members of the family eating French fries. Similarly, if the child sees mom and dad watching a lot of TV, he is likely to do the same.”
How to raise a heart-healthy child
1. Keep moving
Exercise as a family; ride bikes, take a walk, go swimming or play games outside.
2. Be positive
Make heart health fun by incorporating games into your family activities or walk to a park for a healthy picnic dinner. Celebrate successes to promote a positive sense of self-esteem.
3. Limit screen time
Excessive screen time leads to a sedentary lifestyle and constant snacking, which increases the risk for obesity and cardiovascular disease. Limit TV, computer and phone time to two hours each day.
4. Schedule checkups before sports season
If your child is an athlete, have him visit the pediatrician for a physical evaluation to rule out the risk of sudden cardiac death. While this is rare in otherwise apparently healthy teens, it must be addressed to identify those who are at risk.
5. Go to the grocery store together
Learn more about reading nutrition labels and make it fun for your child. Staples in your kitchen should be 100 percent whole wheat or grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts.
6. Keep healthy options on hand
When your child gets home from school, give him healthy snack options such as whole grain crackers and string cheese, hummus dip and vegetables, Greek yogurt with apple slices, nuts and dried fruit.
7. Make dinner a family affair
Involve your child in cooking and planning meals.
8. Check salt intake
Avoid processed foods and keep salt shakers off the table.
9. Stay involved
Be an advocate for your child and others. Insist on good food choices at school. Make sure your child's pediatrician is monitoring cardiovascular indicators like BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol. Contact public officials on matters of the heart. Make your voice heard.
10. Be realistic
Set realistic goals and limits. Small steps and gradual changes can make a big difference in your child’s health over time, so start small and build up.
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