February is American Heart Month and there is no better time than the present to consider the heart healthy lifestyle of your little ones. Research shows that childhood hypertension – or high blood pressure – is on the rise and has increased four-fold over the last 30 to 40 years, affecting more than 3.3 million children in the United States. Childhood hypertension has been linked to obesity, so as parents, it is important to implement healthy behaviors such as regular exercise and nutritious eating habits in our kids early on.
In children and teens, blood pressure increases as they grow so change is normal as it mirrors their height and weight. Kids are diagnosed with hypertension when their average blood pressure is at or above the 95th percentile for their age, sex and height when measured by their healthcare provider. There are usually no symptoms, which makes this condition particularly dangerous. Since overweight children are more likely to be hypertensive, consider these lifestyle tips to keep your kids’ hearts healthy:
- Start each day with a healthy breakfast to refuel the body and provide energy.
- Eat together as a family as often as possible and let kids plan/prepare one meal each week.
- It takes 20 minutes for the brain to tell the body you are full, so take time eating and chew slowly.
- Eat more vegetables and fresh fruits – two to two and a half cups each day.
- Incorporate whole grains such as oats, brown rice, rye and whole wheat pasta – three ounces is the daily recommendation.
- Drink plenty of healthy fluids like water, low-fat milk and low-calorie beverages.
- See that your kids get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity daily and include it in your regular routine.
- Assign chores that involve movement like raking leaves, walking the dog, mowing the lawn or gardening.
It is important for parents to reward kids with praise (not food), introduce a variety of foods at meal times (in small portions) and to not demand a clean plate.
In some cases, hypertension in children may be a symptom of another condition or illness. Consult your pediatrician with any concerns or for advice on maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle.
Julia Viger, MSN, RN, RN-BC
Clinical Care Specialist
Valley Children’s Willson Heart Center
This article originally appeared in the February edition of Central California Parent Magazine