February is “Heart Healthy Month”. Maintaining heart health is important for everyone, beginning with young children. I begin thinking about “heart health” when I see a newborn for their 2 week visit and take a thorough family history. Pediatricians all know that genetics play an important role in so many aspects of a child’s health. This is particularly true about the heart, and it is important to identify if there is high blood pressure, stroke, sudden cardiac death or high cholesterol in a child’s immediate family. The family history remains significant throughout a child’s life and may change as a child gets older as well, so it needs to be updated as necessary.
Genetics aside, heart health is also based on maintaining a healthy lifestyle which has to include a healthy diet for all ages. From infancy I stress that a baby’s first foods should be healthy vegetables and fruits followed by meats. This discussion begins when a child is about 5 months of age and I get a sense of how the parents eat!! I am realizing that the only way to start a child on the path to good nutrition is to “change” many parents poor eating habits. Remember the adage, “model the behavior” you want your child to have......that has to include eating a well balanced diet yourself. So many families tell me that they “don’t cook” or “don’t have time to eat together”. One dad just recently told me....”look at me and you can tell I am not a healthy eater”. At least he was honest!
I am convinced that you don’t have to be a chef or gourmet cook to prepare simple healthy meals. It does require a bit of planning as you have to have food on hand or we all find ourselves eating “junk” when there is nothing around. (wheat thins for dinner?). Making a grocery list at the beginning of the week and having some sort of meal plan seems one of the ways to stay on track. Data is also showing that eating healthy meals 5 nights a week and then “having a cheating night” or two is probably a more realistic plan for most of us. Telling a child they will never “eat pizza, pasta or Mexican food” is about the same as saying “you will never play a video game”. Been there - done that myself....doesn’t work.
Snacking is also an issue as most kids eat 4-5 times a day, which is actually healthy, if given the correct foods. Commit to buying more fruits and veggies for snacks....I have patients who tell me they eat hummus and veggies, and have kale and sweet potato chips. You just have to start making a few changes in food choices, slow and steady.
Next.....how about exercise.....more to come.