Heart disease remains the #1 cause of death in the United States, killing about half a million people each year. Coronary heart disease used to be thought of as a disease of the middle aged and the elderly. Over the last twenty years it has become increasingly clear that atherosclerosis – damage to the heart arteries — begins in childhood. Now is the best time to make changes.
With this in mind, the American Heart Association has established a Committee on Atherosclerosis, Hypertension, and Obesity in the Young (AHOY). I am thrilled that they have published July 2002 guidelines for cardiovascular health in children. The guidelines are also aimed at preventing diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
My take home message for parents is to help your kids spend at least 30 minutes a day in active play (encourage play, not exercise), to make wise food choices (including at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, at least six of whole grains and other complex carbohydrates, switching to low fat or nonfat dairy options after age 2, and avoiding all exposure to secondhand smoke. These are great guidelines for the whole family.