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Help your Child Prevent Cardiovascular Disease
What you need to know about cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention in children:
CVD is any disease that affects the heart or blood vessels. Heart disease prevents blood from being pumped through blood vessels correctly. Blood vessel disease may make the heart work harder, leading to heart disease. CVD can cause serious problems, such as a heart attack or stroke. CVD usually develops in adults, but conditions that lead to CVD often begin in childhood or adolescence. Your child's risk for CVD may be higher because of a condition he or she was born with, or because of lifestyle choices. CVD prevention for children includes managing health conditions and creating healthy lifestyle habits.
Help your child create a healthy lifestyle to prevent CVD:
- Give your child heart-healthy foods. Heart-healthy foods are low in unhealthy fats and sodium (salt) and high in healthy fats and fiber. Your child's healthcare provider or a dietitian can help you create a meal plan for your child. The plan will include fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables and fruits. It will also include low-fat dairy, lean meats, fish, whole grains, and cooked beans. Serving sizes and the number of daily servings for each food will be included. Your child's provider or dietitian can help you choose foods that work best for your family.
- Limit sodium (salt). Too much sodium can make your child's body hold onto too much fluid. The fluid can keep your child's blood vessels from working properly. Daily sodium limits depend on your child's age and health. You can help your child limit sodium. If you cook with salt, do not add any to your child's food at the table. Keep the salt shaker off the table so salt will not be added to food after it is cooked. Check labels to find low-sodium or no-salt-added foods. Talk to your child's healthcare provider before you use salt substitutes. Some are high in potassium. Too much potassium can affect your child's health if he or she has a condition such as kidney disease.
- Help your child reach or maintain a healthy weight. Your child's heart has to work harder if he or she is overweight. Blood vessels cannot work properly with extra weight. Your child's healthcare provider can tell you what weight is healthy for your child. He or she can help create a weight loss plan that is right for your child. Even a small amount of weight loss can make a big difference for your child's cardiovascular health. Keep the focus on lifetime weight management, not a specific number on the scale.
- Encourage your child to be active. Activity helps the heart and lungs work better, decreases blood pressure, and helps maintain a healthy weight. Most children and teens need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Your child may need to start slowly and work up to 60 minutes. He or she can also break activity into shorter sessions during the day.
- Have your child follow a sleep schedule. Regular sleep is important for your child's cardiovascular health. Ask your child's healthcare provider for the recommended amount of sleep for your child's age. Have your child go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day. Do not let your child use electronic devices or watch TV for at least 1 hour before bed. Keep your child's room dark and quiet. Let your child's healthcare provider know if he or she is having any sleep problems.
- Set screen time limits. Screen time is the amount of television, computer, smart phone, and video game time your child has each day. Too much screen time can prevent your child from being physically active or cause problems with sleep. Your child's pediatrician can help you create a screen time plan. The daily limit is usually 1 hour for children 2 to 5 years. The daily limit is usually 2 hours for children 6 years or older.
What else you can do to help your child prevent CVD:
- Help your child manage health conditions that can lead to CVD. Examples include kidney disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, and diabetes. Work with your child's healthcare providers to create a management plan. You can help prevent CVD by having your child checked regularly for health conditions before they develop. For example, blood pressure is usually checked starting at 3 years of age. Cholesterol levels are usually checked starting around 9 to 11 years. Your child's healthcare provider may recommend earlier checks based on your child's family history of CVD or conditions that cause it.
- Keep your child away from secondhand smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause heart, blood vessel, and lung damage. Ask others to smoke in a room or area away from your child, or move your child if needed. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you or your teen currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to healthcare providers before you or your teen use these products.
- Set a good example. Your child will learn healthy habits by watching you make healthy choices. Talk to your child about your choices. For example, you may be trying to get more physical activity or cut down on salt. Tell your child about the steps you are taking to make these changes. He or she may be more willing to make lifestyle changes if the whole family does it together.
- Help your child set goals. Together you can set some long-term goals and some short-term goals. For example, your child may have a long-term goal of being able to ride his or her bicycle or run with friends more easily. Short-term goals may be to ride or run a little longer each day. If your child needs to lose a large amount of weight, set short-term goals of losing 1 or 2 pounds. This can make the total amount to lose look more achievable. Be sure to celebrate when your child reaches short-term goals.
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