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Nutrition Newsletter
Clinical Nutrition and Lactation Services Newsletter

Be Good to Your Heart (and your children’s too!)

 Katherine Phillips RD MPH

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States? In 2010, heart disease services, medications and lost productivity cost the United States $316.4 billion, making it an expensive yet very preventable disease. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which can cause heart attack, angina, heart failure and arrhythmias. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the cause of death for one in every four adult Americans. However, adults aren’t the only ones at risk. Children are now developing cardiovascular disease risk factors that were previously only seen in adults. Children who are obese are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. One study estimated that as many as 70% of obese children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Prevention and early action are the keys to decreasing your risk and your children’s risk of developing heart disease.  The highest risk factors for heart disease include inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes.  Here are some ways you can reduce the risk of heart disease in your family:

  • Know your family history
    • Genetic factors can play a role in the development of heart disease.
  • Know your numbers (and your children’s numbers too!)
    • High cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes are three of the six top risk factors for developing heart disease, so keep them under control.
    • New guidelines endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics state that all children, with or without a family history of heart disease, should have their cholesterol levels tested between the ages of 9 and 11, and then again between the ages of 17 and 21. Doctors think that this early testing and control of cholesterol levels in childhood can help reduce the risk of heart disease in adulthood.
  • Stop smoking
    • Smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by two to four times!
  • Improve your diet
    • Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels and promote atherosclerosis. High salt or sodium in the diet causes raised blood pressure levels.
    • Choose lean meats, low-fat or fat- free dairy products; decrease foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt/sodium; and watch portion sizes.
    • Increase fruit, vegetable and whole grain intake.
    • Plan your meals ahead of time so you aren’t scrambling for something quick and unhealthy at the last minute.
    • Do not use food as a reward for good behavior or good grades.
    • Limit snacking and be aware of the snack foods your children are eating.
    • Know what your child eats at school.
    • Eat meals as a family so it is easier to know what and how much your child is eating.
  • Be active
    • 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every week (or just 20 minutes each day) can decrease your risk of heart disease.
    • Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity for your child every day.
    • Find fun exercise activities you can do as a family.
    • Limit the amount of time you and your child spend watching TV and playing on the computer.
  • Control your weight
    • Losing just 5–10 percent of your current weight over 6 months will lower your risk for heart disease and other conditions.
    • If your child is overweight and there is no illness or condition causing the obesity, ask your doctor or a registered dietitian to provide you with some resources to help your child either lose weight or control their rate of weight gain while they grow.
  • Drink less alcohol
    • Excessive alcohol use leads to an increase in blood pressure, and increases the risk for heart disease. It also increases blood levels of triglycerides, which contribute to atherosclerosis.
    • Drink no more than one alcohol drink per day if you're a woman and two alcohol drinks per day if you're a man.
  • Be a good role model for your children. Parents who model healthy eating and physical activity can positively influence their children's health.

Where to find more information:
Harvard School of Public Health-The Nutrition Source: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/index.html
Center for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/index.htm
American Heart Association: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/

References
Heron MP, Hoyert DL, Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Kochanek KD, Tejada-Vera B. Deaths: Final data for 2006 [PDF–2.3M]. National Vital Statistics Reports. 2009;57(14). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004 [accessed 2011 Mar 11].

Center for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/index.htm

 

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