Why so many children are on the road to heart disease

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We teach our children how to walk, talk and go to the bathroom, but do we teach them how to eat right?

National statistics show that many of us do not. According to the American Obesity Association, an alarming 15.5 percent of children between the ages of six and 11 are considered obese, putting them on a collision course with the nation's biggest killer: heart disease. The power of preventing such a tragedy lies in the hands of parents, according to pediatric health experts.

“Parents are the gatekeepers and the role models for their children's eating and exercise habits,” says Marjorie Milici, M.D., pediatrician on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

“Chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart disease and cancer, which take decades to develop, have their roots in childhood, when exercise and eating behaviors are being learned,” adds Dr. Milici.

Starting at a very young age, children should begin learning about proper nutrition and exercise. The American Heart Association (AHA) says that children age 2 and older should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, as well as a variety of other foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, in order to promote cardiovascular health.

“It's up to parents to help their children control the factors that they can, such as diet and exercise,” says Dr. Milici. “Children should get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Lack of exercise prevents the breakdown of bad cholesterol in our bodies. Combined with a high-fat diet, it can lead to health problems such as elevated cholesterol levels, heart disease and diabetes when children are older.”

A Guide for Parents
Kids are getting too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good:

TOO MUCH/MANY…

  • sedentary time
  • busy time
  • calories found in lower-nutrient foods
  • sugary beverages

NOT ENOUGH…

  • physical activity
  • rest or downtime (To increase their energy, children usually eat more when they're tired.)
  • fiber, vitamin C, calcium, iron
  • low-fat dairy products

For more information about Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, visit http://www.BaylorHealth.com.

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