The news is not good. “Heart disease begins in childhood,” reports the National Institutes of Health. A recent examination of 360 randomly selected youngsters, ages 7 to 12, revealed that 98 percent of the children already had two or more risk factors for heart disease.
But we keep hearing that people are getting healthier!
It’s mainly the grown-ups and especially business leaders who are exercising, losing weight, quitting tobacco and martinis and becoming more health conscious. But it’s a different story for kids. “Since the early 1970s, the general health of adolescents has declined,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics. “And this decline has been escalating over the last 45 years. Today’s kids are flabby, don’t have the proper cardiovascular tone, and are physically unfit.”
Too much television?
Television certainly has had an impact; and so have video games, cell phones, computers and social media. Time spent sitting in front of these screens is time taken away from calorie-burning physical activities such as climbing trees, running, bicycling, basketball playing or skating. That sets the stage for excessive weight gain which by itself is a risk factor for high cholesterol blood pressure and heart disease.
What about children’s eating habits?
With nine of 10 Saturday morning food advertisements on the networks pitching processed foods high in sugar, fat and salt, television significantly influences the food preferences of children from the earliest years. Home-cooked-sitting-down-around-the-table meals are now the exception in most American homes. These meals have been largely replaced by fast foods and engineered foods.
Today’s kids are laying the foundation for their chronic diseases as adults. With fast foods and snack-bars and vending machines abounding, and with the media highlighting hyperpalatable taste sensations, high in sugar, salt, fat and calories while poor in nutritional value, food preferences are being shaped and influenced significantly.
Any good news?
The good news is that children can be taught—and the younger they get started, the better! Here are some tips for building good health habits early in life:
- Daily exercise, preferably outdoors for at least one hour each day.
- Three meals a day at regular times with lots of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
- Discourage snacks. If a snack is needed, offer a piece of fresh fruit.
- Plenty of water. Limit sodas and fruit juices.
- Control television and video games. The hours a child watches TV relate directly to weight gain and elevated blood cholesterol levels.
- Adequate rest. Most children are chronically tired. Put the kids to bed early enough so they awaken naturally in time for a healthy breakfast.
- Spend time with your children. Time spent encourages greater trust and better communication. Children need these basics to cope with the stresses of growing up into balanced, mentally and emotionally healthy adults.
Parents’ Healthy Habits are Key!
The most important thing is to set a good example for your children. Children model what they see their parents doing. If mom and dad eat healthy whole foods, exercise regularly, and prioritize sleep, rest and family then kids will adopt this as being the “normal” way that people live. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect – just do your best and if you are struggling with healthy lifestyle, consider seeking help from a Lifestyle Medicine physician or a program like CHIP.
For more on the lifestyle medicine approach to good health and healing, join us live every Wednesday at 3pm (ET) for our Ask Dr. Sal series with Dr. Sal Lacagnina, Medical Director of the Lifestyle Medicine Institute.
Join the movement that sees employers, health care systems, hospitals and physicians achieve real and positive health outcomes for their employees and patients. CHIP is the first Certified Lifestyle Medicine Program that has helped thousands of people prevent, halt and even reverse chronic illness.
NOTE: CHIP is only offered to adults over age 18.