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Pediatric Heart Care: Parents’ Guide

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The updated guidelines on childhood obesity from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 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.

Over the past three decades, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents. 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 by educating people about the risks and offering tips to prevent childhood obesity.

This unfortunate trend not only jeopardizes physical well-being, but also challenges pediatric heart care. Childhood obesity is intricately linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular issues in children, making it imperative to address these concerns early on. As excess weight takes its toll on young hearts, the demand for specialized pediatric heart care has surged.

Tackling Childhood Obesity

Health care professionals are now at the forefront of a critical mission, striving to tackle childhood obesity and mitigate its adverse effects on cardiovascular health. Through a holistic approach that combines nutritional education, lifestyle interventions and advanced medical treatments, the field of pediatric cardiology aims to break the chains between childhood obesity and cardiovascular complications.

The journey toward better pediatric heart care requires a collaborative effort with parents, providers and communities to promote physical, specifically cardiac, well-being.

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 on Heart Health

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, heart failure, 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 or other heart conditions 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:

Developing Healthy Eating Habits

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.

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

Encouraging Healthy Sleeping Practices

Encouraging and practicing good sleeping practices is a core element of cardiovascular well-being. In the context of pediatric heart care, fostering good sleeping habits stands as a beacon of preventive care. Adequate, uninterrupted sleep plays a crucial role in supporting the cardiovascular system's optimal functioning in children. From regulating blood pressure to promoting heart-healthy hormone production, each night's rest contributes to prevention of future heart problems.

As the world grapples with an array of health challenges, pediatric heart care professionals are championing the cause of prioritizing sleep as a fundamental pillar of cardiovascular health. By encouraging parents and caregivers to instill bedtime routines, limit screen time, and create conducive sleep environments, we pave the way for a generation with hearts that beat stronger and healthier.

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

Limiting Screen Time

In the digital age, where screens have become commonplace in the lives of children, the call to limit screen time is an important one. Research increasingly notes the link between excessive screen time and potential cardiovascular risks in the younger population. Too much screen time not only contributes to a sedentary lifestyle, but also impacts the overall well-being of children's hearts.

Pediatric cardiologists are championing the cause of moderation in screen exposure, recognizing it as a key preventive measure. By curbing screen time, we empower children to engage in physical activities, promoting a lifestyle that nurtures cardiovascular fitness.

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

Staying Active

In the pursuit of pediatric cardiac health, the role of physical activity emerges as a cornerstone, guiding children toward a future of cardiovascular well-being. Staying active is not just a means of fostering fitness; it is a powerful prescription for the heart. Regular exercise enhances circulation promoting heart muscle strength. Through sports, play, and structured exercise routines, children embark on a journey that strengthens their hearts against potential risks.

  • 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 — this critical care can include medication and surgery, if needed — as early as possible.

Stay Involved and Informed

Actively participating in our children's well-being goes beyond providing basic care; it also means a commitment to their heart health. Staying involved in your child's cardiovascular wellness is a proactive stance that transcends routine check-ups. It involves being attuned to their daily habits, understanding the significance of physical activity, and actively promoting heart-healthy practices.

If you have concerns monitoring your child's heart rate during exercise can offer valuable insights into their cardiovascular fitness, serving as a compass in navigating their overall health.

A child's heart rate can vary depending on their age:

  • Newborn: 100–205 beats per minute (bpm)
  • Infant (4 weeks to 1 year): 100–180 bpm
  • Baby (birth to 3 months): 100–150 bpm
  • Toddler (1-3 years): 90-150 bpm
  • Preschooler (3-5 years): 80-140 bpm
  • School-aged child (5-12 years): 70-120 bpm
  • Kids by age 12: 55–85 beats per minute

A child's heart rate may be a concern if it's:

  • More than 160 bpm in a child less than 12 months old
  • More than 150 bpm in a child 12 to 24 months old
  • More than 140 bpm in a child 2 to 4 years old

By communicating the importance of regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep, parents and caregivers become foundational for robust cardiac health. This involvement is not just a shared responsibility but an opportunity to instill lifelong habits that benefit them through their journey to adulthood.

AdventHealth Children’s Hospitals Support Parents with Pediatric Heart Care Goals

Our cardiac care teams include pediatricians and pediatric specialists, such as pediatric cardiologists, to help you and your child prevent or manage pediatric heart care and childhood obesity.

Find a provider and help your child’s whole health today.

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