Healthy Choices, Healthy Kids: Three Steps to Heart Health

Childhood obesity has become the number one health concern among parents in the U.S. Kids today have health problems usually not seen until adulthood, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and Type 2 diabetes. In almost all cases, these can be avoided by teaching kids healthy eating habits and encouraging exercise. Currently, 23.9 million American children are overweight, and of these 12.7 million are obese.

Summer is a great time to start making changes in your household by developing heart healthy habits to last all year long. Healthy living doesn’t have to be daunting. It’s easy (and free) to start, and the only thing it requires is a commitment from you to create an environment of heart health in your home! Here are three simple things you can do to start your kids on the right track to living a heart healthier life:

Step One: Rethink your drink!heart1

One of the primary culprits of childhood obesity is sugar-sweetened beverages including soda, sports drinks, sweetened waters and teas. According to the American Heart Association, consumption of sugary drinks has increased by 500 percent in the past 50 years and is now the single largest caloric intake for children.

Beverages like energy drinks can be deceiving because they advertise that they are healthy, but are usually loaded with calories and sugar. Common forms of added sugars are sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, corn syrups, concentrated fruit juice and honey. Look carefully at labels, as many drinks provide more than one serving, which can double or triple your sugar consumption.

If you have sugary drinks on a regular basis, the American Heart Association recommends cutting out one of these a day. A week later, drink two less a day, until they are cut out completely from your diet. Replace sugary drinks with water.

Step Two: Healthy eating is a family affair!

When you get home from a long day at work, the last thing you want to do is wage war over broccoli at the dinner table. That’s why it’s so easy to fall into the trap of making mac-n-cheese or ordering pizza. It keeps you out of the “eat your vegetables” fight. There is good news: eating a nutritious meal doesn’t have to be a battle! Don’t be afraid to include your kids in the prep work. By being involved in grocery shopping and food preparation, your kids will have more ‘buy-in.’ If they feel some ownership over the meal, they may be more likely to eat it. It may take some effort and creativity to get kids to choose fruits and vegetables instead of the sweet and salty processed snacks they see advertised. Just remember that developing good eating habits early on helps set the stage for lifelong heart health.

heart2Step Three: Get up and get moving!

Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Increased physical activity has been associated with an increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Physical activity produces overall physical, psychological and social benefits, helps with controlling weight, reducing blood pressure, raising HDL (also known as “good”) cholesterol, reducing the risk of diabetes and reducing the risk of some types of cancer.

Summertime in Houston offers lots of opportunities to keep your children active and moving. Whether it’s spending time at the neighborhood park, going to summer camp, or participating in swim lessons at your local YMCA, there are many inexpensive options available to keep your kids active and engaged. Even if their physical activity is playing in the yard with friends or the family dog, the important thing to remember is by creating a routine that involves physical activity, you are making a difference in your child’s health.

Inactive children are likely to become inactive adults. Help your child develop healthy habits early in life that will bring lifelong benefits. The best way to lead your child to a healthy lifestyle is to set a positive example and create an environment of health and wellness in the home. Break the cycle before it starts and take steps today to start your child on the path of living a heart healthier life. For more information on the American Heart Association recommendations and ways to stay healthy this summer, visit www.heart.org.

Contributed by Apiyo Obala. Apiyo Obala is the Director of Communications for the American Heart Association Houston Metro Division. The American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Our mission is to build healthier lives by preventing, treating and defeating these diseases – America’s number one and number five killers. We fund cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health.

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