Children who don’t have heart problems as kids may develop them as adults, due to risk factors like obesity and hereditary factors, says Dr. Linda E. Muhonen, a pediatric cardiologist at CHOC Children’s. Risk factors that contribute to coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular diseases include smoking, poor diet that can lead to dyslipidemias, high blood pressure and a lack of exercise.
These often take root at an early age. “An obese child has an 80 percent chance of being an obese adult, and obesity can contribute to the onset of multiple illnesses including diabetes and hypertension,” says Dr. Muhonen.
“Parents should avoid bringing unhealthy foods into the home, such as soda or sugar-sweetened drinks,” says Dr. Muhonen. “The only drinks most kids should have are water and fat-free milk. Kids should eat three meals a day with snacks of fruits and vegetables in between. Many children skip meals, creating an environment of overeating at the next meal; skipping meals can lead to lowering your metabolic rate. We encourage children to bring their lunch to school so they can pack something healthy like a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, a piece of fruit and some pretzels or string cheese.”
GET THEM MOVING
“I like to see families have some healthy family time before dinner, like going for a family walk or going to the park before they sit down to eat,” says Dr. Muhonen. “This gets the kids to move. One of the rules in our Lipid Clinic, where we help kids at risk for developing heart disease, is that children cannot watch TV or have screen time until they have been outside for an hour doing a physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends that children have an hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. It doesn’t have to be all at one time,” she says.
IS MY CHILD OVERWEIGHT OR OBESE?
Children are considered overweight if their Body Mass Index (BMI) falls in the 85-94th percentile. They are considered obese if their BMI falls in the 95th percentile or above, says Dr. Muhonen. Parents can ask their pediatrician to help make this determination.
- Approximate number of children ages 12-17 who are already smokers: 4.5 Million
- Percentage of obese children who will become obese adults: 80%
- Approximate percentage of children and adolescents (ages 6-19) who were overweight or obese in 2010: 33%