Heart-healthy habits for kids

By Karen Stokes

Dr. Joseph Block
Pediatric Cardiology, Children’s Wisconsin
(Photo/Children’s Wisconsin)

Dr. Joseph Block, a pediatric cardiologist, directs the Healthy Hearts Clinic at Children’s Hospital. The clinic mainly deals with children with hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease.

“We try to see children early if we can because in our society there are sedentary lifestyles and bad eating habits and it is much easier to intervene earlier in life and teach children to eat. It is much easier to do this at an early age than to do it in adulthood. Most of our families struggle with this, so while we focus on the child, we try to promote things that the whole family needs to do,” said Dr. Block.

Kids seem to always be hungry, especially between meals. While sugary and salty foods may be the “go-to” snacks, there are better, healthier options.

Dr. Block offered suggestions for healthy snacks: “Whole-whole pretzels, low-fat string cheese, making fruit smoothies with Greek yogurt, really promoting fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain options are key, as well as whole-grain pita and hummus from vegetables, or make a homemade trail mix with whole grains, nuts, and fruit. I think those are good options.”

Along with a healthy diet, kids need to keep moving. A realistic exercise goal should be 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity and less than two hours a day of screen time, which leads to physical inactivity.

“They might be able to get that amount of exercise in gym classes, but I think more and more schools are struggling to have gyms every day, so that’s really what we’re aiming for, we want kids to play and be have fun,” said Dr. Block. “It’s important for their overall physical health. When children are more sedentary, additional weight problems are added and this can further exacerbate diabetes and hypertension problems.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding screens for children under 18 to 24 months, except when video chatting with family. The AAP also recommends limiting screen use for preschoolers, ages 2 to 5, to just one hour a day of high-quality programming (think Sesame Street or PBS).

A healthy routine can help children feel better, improve mental health, and reduce and prevent conditions such as anxiety and depression.

For information about healthy foods and options for your family, go to: Childrens Wisconsin, American Academy of Pediatrics, or American Heart Association websites.