Family and Friends Health Care

Keeping Your Child’s Heart Healthy: Pediatric Cardiology

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Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidelines on childhood obesity to encourage early intervention. It’s a shift away from the academy’s previous “watchful waiting” approach and underscores the rising health threat posed by childhood obesity in America, which has reached epidemic levels.

In fact, over the past three decades, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents. And today, it affects 1 in 5 children and adolescents in the United States. That’s why we’re doing our part to help raise awareness during National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month this September by educating people about the risks and offering tips for preventing childhood obesity from developing.

At AdventHealth for Children, we’re here to help. We offer a genetic obesity test for children who qualify, which requires nothing more than a quick and easy saliva swab to help find answers for children living with obesity.

The Impact of Childhood Obesity

Obesity — defined as having a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile — is a complex health condition caused by multiple factors, including genetics, metabolism and lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity, diet and sleep.

Having obesity as a child significantly increases your likelihood of having obesity as an adult, which is linked to a higher risk for health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.

In addition, the more obese a child or teen is, the more likely they are to have higher blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels than those who are just overweight — and the more likely they are to develop heart disease as an adult.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Recent studies have found that early intervention in children with obesity can help.

One study, for example, found that using screening programs and risk management strategies can help reduce the risk that a child with obesity will go on to develop heart disease later in life.

Lifestyle interventions are also important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these healthy tips for children, which can also be used to help prevent childhood obesity:

Develop healthy eating habits early on

  • Eat a diet rich in foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and limit foods that contain added sugar and saturated fats.

Ensure your child gets enough sleep

  • Babies, 4-12 months: 12-16 hours
  • Toddlers, 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
  • Preschool-aged, 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
  • School-aged, 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
  • Teenage, 13-18 years: 8-10 hours

Limit screen time

  • Too much screen time in young people is associated with poor sleep, weight gain, poor mental health and lower grades in school.

Stay active

  • Preschool-aged, 3-5 years: Be active throughout the day
  • School-aged through teenage: Incorporate at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day

When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, the AAP recommends treatment — including medication and surgery, if needed — as early as possible.

Strategies for Healthy Eating in Children

You can help your children learn healthy eating habits by modeling good behavior. That means embracing healthy eating habits together as a family.

Start by filling your pantry and refrigerator with healthy snack foods, like baby carrots, yogurt, nuts, fruits and trail mix. (And if you have picky eaters, we have some fun tips that can help.) Then, set your family mealtimes to establish a daily eating framework. You can also make sure your child eats breakfast, providing them fuel for the hours ahead.

Finally, don’t forget hydration. Encouraging kids to drink water can help not only stave off dehydration but also help them know whether they’re truly hungry or just thirsty.

Our pediatricians and pediatric specialists, such as pediatric cardiologists, can help you and your child prevent or manage childhood obesity. Find a provider and help your child’s whole health today.

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