You probably think heart disease is only a problem for "older" individuals. Unfortunately rates of children being diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol are on the rise. This is largely linked to rising rates of childhood obesity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled since 1980. Obesity in children between the ages of 6 to 11 years has increased from 6.5% to 19.6% and for adolescents between 12 to 19 years the rate has increased from 5.0% to 18.1%.
Also, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease in a sample population of 5 to 17 year-olds,
So, what can you do to ensure you are raising a heart healthy family?
Here are 2 steps you can take right now to promote heart health in your family:
1. Be a good role model.
Parents are role models for their children and have the greatest influence over their children's lives. Children watch their parents to learn the appropriate behavior to imitate. This goes from basic manners to attitudes towards food. (FYI - Watch what you say about a food in front of your kids! Just because you may not care for broccoli, doesn't mean they won't learn to love it.)
Your children will follow your example. If you eat fruits and vegetables, they will likely eat fruits and vegetables. If you have soda for breakfast, they will likely have soda for breakfast. Children learn from the example you set.
It's important that you are an active participant in any health diet and lifestyle changes you try to implement. Preparing a healthy meal for your family and then you choosing to eat something else doesn't work.
2. Sit down and eat together.
I know making meals a priority can be challenging with busy schedules, but that doesn't make it any less important. Research consistently shows families that eat together eat healthier meals and better dietary outcomes. A family meal is strictly limited to the entire family being together. What's important is that whoever is home or together takes the time to sit down and enjoy mealtime together. This means if one parent is at work the other can sit down for meal time with the kids.
A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found children who ate family meals are:
More likely to eat fruits and vegetables
Less likely to choose unhealthy snacks
Another survey found frequent family meals related to better nutrition intake, decreased risk for unhealthy weight gain, and reduced risk of substance abuse.
Family meals are also a great opportunity to introduce new foods, with you acting as role model for trying something new.
These are just two steps you can take to raise a heart healthy family. Leading a heart healthy lifestyle requires the incorporation of many healthy habits, including regular physical activity and home full of healthy snack/meal choices. Take it one step at a time and you'll not only improve your health, but the health of your family as well.