For the Health of Our Hearts
While heart disease is not a major cause of death among children and teenagers, it is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States. Many of the risk factors associated with the development of heart disease, are things that can be modified during childhood, by routine screenings with your pediatrician and instilling good health habits in your children at home. Controlling as many of the following risk factors as possible during childhood can decrease the risk of the development of heart disease as an adult.
High Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure is becoming more common among children, and it can often go undiagnosed as it may cause no symptoms. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends yearly blood pressure screening for healthy children beginning around age 3. Ensure that your children attend their regular yearly well visits to have this screening performed. Depending on the underlying cause of high blood pressure, treatment may consist of lifestyle changes, like eating a healthy diet and exercising.
Higher levels of cholesterol in childhood have been shown to contribute to plaque build-up in the blood vessels that can progress into adulthood. This leads to a process called atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart disease. The AAP recommends screening all children once between 9 and 11 years and again between 17 and 21 years for high blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol can be prevented by exercising, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Talk with your children and teenagers about the dangers of smoking. Set a good example for your child, by not smoking, or quitting if you do smoke.
Childhood obesity has become a growing concern in the U.S. Obesity leads to many other health problems, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults, so preventing and treating obesity in childhood, will in turn decrease the risk of heart disease in adulthood. Your pediatrician will determine your child’s BMI as a measure of a healthy weight at their yearly check-ups.
Lack of exercise is a significant risk factor for heart disease, by increasing the above mentioned heart disease risk factors. Aside from decreasing your child’s risk of heart disease, the benefits of regular exercise are numerous. Teaching children to be active when young, will build a foundation for remaining active into adulthood.
Show your hearts some love this month by encouraging your family to live a healthy lifestyle by following the 5-2-1-0 program. Provide a healthy diet with 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Limit screen time to less than 2 hours per day. Get active for 1 hour daily. Drink 0 sugary drinks per day. Make changes for your family as a whole, so that everyone is encouraging and supporting one another.
Written by: Dr. Amanda Murray