February is American Heart Month. Now is a great time to think about your child’s cardiovascular health. Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle at an early age pays off in the long term.
“Our cardiac health as children and adolescents, as evaluated by proxy measures such as weight and blood pressure, reflects our risk of heart disease as adults,” Emmanuelle Favilla, an attending physician with the division of cardiology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says. “Thus, it is never too early to promote a heart-healthy lifestyle to our children. (It’s) instilling healthy habits for them to grow with and in turn more easily sustain in adolescence and adulthood.”
Many occurrences of heart disease that adults develop start as kids. But parents can take preventive measures early on.
“It’s very important if you can get your kids screened for cholesterol. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids get screened between 9 and 11,” Sarah Clauss, an advanced imaging cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., says. “Get the screening and take care of it as best as you can early on because that is reversible, but once you get to be older, it’s not.”
One can avoid many health issues by developing heart-healthy habits now.
“If you have a heart-healthy lifestyle in place, you avoid things like obesity, hypertension and having an abnormal glucose profile leading to metabolic syndrome or diabetes,” Peter Gaskin, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, says. “By working on these things from childhood, it’s easier to develop those good habits rather than having to make changes in your lifestyle to fix something that has already happened.”
By making heart-healthy habits a part of your family’s routine, kids will pick them up easier, and adults will also see the benefits in themselves.
“A lot of what I talk about with my families is modeling good behaviors,” Clauss says. “I want parents to eat these foods, too, and the parents to exercise and limit their screen time. I want them to be role models.”