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Your Child’s Best Valentine: A Healthy Heart

February is American Heart month. It is estimated that 17 percent of U.S. children are obese. Obesity, coupled with a high sodium diet, places children at risk for hypertension and heart disease. Find out how to help your child maintain a healthy heart.

Many people do not realize that children can develop hypertension. Often times there are underlying reasons for children having high blood pressure that are related to kidney disease and other types of medical conditions. I want to address the healthy born child, who is overweight or obese. Children who are overweight or obese have higher blood pressures than most children who are in their appropriate height and weight class. I also know that obese children have approximately a three-fold higher risk for hypertension than non-obese children. This is the first time in American history that our children may have a lesser life expectancy than their parents and it is due to lifestyle issues such as obesity, lack of physical exercise, high fat diets and Diabetes. All these previously mentioned items are inter-related. The end result is a decrease in one’s health and life expectancy.

Health risks of obesity include:

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  • Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Sleep apnea and asthma.
  • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
  • Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).
  • Social and psychological problems such poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.
  • If children are overweight, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe.

Childhood obesity has tripled in the last three decades. It is estimated that 17 percent of U.S. children are obese. This number equates to 12.5 million children and 23 million are considered overweight. The Partnership for a Healthier America reports the following:

  • About 21 percent of children aged 2 to 5 are already obese or overweight.
  • Almost 20 percent of children aged 6 to 11 are obese or overweight.
  • 18 percent of 12 to 19 year olds are obese or overweight.

Add these statistics to the fact that one-third of all children born in the year 2000 and later will suffer from diabetes sometime in their lives and you can see that my concern is validated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American eats about 3,300mg of salt per day. The U.S. guidelines suggest that people should take in less than 2300mg per day. One in three Americans has some form of heart disease. The adult statistics got me thinking about the average American child’s sodium intake and their risk for heart disease. These are integral factors related to obesity and being over weight. Obese youth and over weight children often present with symptoms of hypertension which are the following:

  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue

Many of these children are prehypertensive, which means that without any intervention, their risk of becoming hypertensive is just a matter of time. This short time span will occur if interventions are not implemented.

Historically speaking, the average American diet has changed over the last 40 years:

  • Presently, Americans are eating 31 percent more calories per day.
  • Forty years ago, a snack was once daily.
  • Snacking accounts for about 200 calories extra per day than 40 years ago.
  • Portions are two to five times larger today than before.
  • Dietary fat and oil consumption are up by 56 percent.
  • Sugars are up by 14 percent.

We know that children are more sedentary due to television, video games and computer social networking. Only one-third of high school students get the recommended level of physical activity. With all this information, we should implement strategies to keep our children heart healthy such as:

  • One hour of play/physical exercise.
  • Decrease the amount of snacks and make the snacks healthier food choices.
  • Avoid processed foods which contain high levels of salt.
  • Keep fast food at a minimum because these types of foods are high in fats and salt.
  • Decrease portions.
  • Two-thirds of a plate should consist of fruits and vegetables.
  • Stay away from sodas.

For more information, check out a program developed by First Lady Michelle Obama to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation called Let's Move, and the CDC.


Marilyn Kontrafouris-Eleftheriou RN,MN February 15, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Read more about obesity in my article date April 13, 2011. The title is Obesity in Children. The topics regarding obesity are broad. It is a national epidemic and it should be taken very seriously. School lunches, school gym classes and health education classes need to modify their outdated practices. Schools and hospitals need to offer community education. Above all of these venues, parents should take a long hard look at their homes and pantries. Is your child's home environment lending to their weight problem?

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