It is indisputable fact that heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in this country.
Raising children in a way that allows them to develop good, heart healthy habits now might change that statistic for future generations. Doing it together, as a family, makes it easier and gives the whole family a health boost.
Working to raise heart healthy kids should be a family affair, said Dr. Jeffrey Colnes, a cardiologist at PortsmouthRegionalHospital.
“If good habits are adopted throughout the household, every family member will be healthier,” Colnes said. “Plus, the entire family is doing what they can to reduce the risk of heart disease, now for the adults and by developing habits children will take forward into their future.”
Colnes said many choices adults should be making for their own heart health overlap with what is good for the entire family.
“If you are trying to quit smoking, it is going to be very hard in a house full of smokers,” Colnes said. “Likewise, it’s tough to stick with a diet if the rest of your family is eating food you find hard to avoid.”
Dr. Alexandra Bonesho of Core Pediatrics in Epping said she cannot impress enough to her families the dangers involved with smoking.
“It is so addictive,” Bonesho said. “One quarter of people who start smoking, even if they cough a lot and hate it at first, will become addicted. I urge families to quit and tell kids to never even try it, not even once.”
Bonesho said the family approach to health is a great one.
“What we will not necessarily do for ourselves, we will do for our kids,” she said. “I’m a working mom and must take into consideration things like making sure my kids eat well. That means I eat better since we eat the same things.”
Bonesho said kids need to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, at least five servings a day. “Juice does not count,” she said. “That’s just a sugar bomb.”
“Exercising can be a burden if you are doing it on your own,” Colnes said. “But as a family outing it can be a great activity done together, making exercise easier to maintain.”
Bonesho said children need 60 minutes of exercise every day, on top of gym class. She said they need less time using media and other electronic devices.
“They can ‘earn’ time to use electronics,” Bonesho said. “The Childhood Obesity and Prevention Project has a good guideline, the 5-2-1-0.”
That means five servings of fruits and vegetables a day; two hours or less of electronic screen time (computers and television); one hour or more of exercise; and zero sugary drinks.
“Five a day means that half of their plate should be comprised of fruits and vegetables,” Bonesho said. “Then a quarter of the plate can be whole grains or carbs, and the other quarter protein, meat or fish. It’s a good guideline and a simple goal to achieve.”
For parents of picky eaters who refuse good food choices, Bonesho advises not giving up.
“Keep offering good food,” she said. “Hide them in things like zucchini and banana breads. Plus taste buds change as the children grow. What they may have refused in the past, they might accept later.”
Developing good habits in children will help them later in life. Colnes said kids who live in a healthy environment growing up make better choices as adults.
“If you can get kids through puberty with a good BMI (body mass index), there is a good chance they will not be overweight adults,” Bonesho said.