Cardiovascular disease includes conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, such as atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries), heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. While you may think that these conditions are more of a concern for adults, researchers are now highlighting how important it is to prevent cardiovascular disease from developing in children.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has developed guidelines to help promote heart health in children. It’s never too early to think about your child’s future! Learn how doctors can identify whether your child is at risk, what can be done to prevent cardiovascular problems, and which treatments can improve your child’s chances of being a healthy adult.
Is Your Child at Risk?
Based on the latest research, the NHLBI’s guidelines provide ways for doctors to assess the risk of cardiovascular disease in children. Recommended screenings include:
Other important factors that the doctor will consider include whether your child:
- Has been exposed to secondhand smoke or has a personal history of smoking
- Has a family history of cardiovascular disease
- Has a sedentary lifestyle
By evaluating your child, the doctor can address conditions that are closely linked to cardiovascular problems, like obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
What Are the Recommendations?
Focusing on the areas of nutrition, physical activity, and tobacco exposure, the NHLBI recommends prevention and treatment guidelines for children of all ages. You can play an integral role at home by:
- Following the ChooseMyPlate dietary guidelines for children aged two years and older, which focuses on getting a proper balance of fruits, veggies,whole grains, protein, and dairy products
- Note: If you child is at high risk for cardiovascular disease, the doctor will make additional recommendations, like eating a low-sodium and low-fat diet.
- Showing your child the importance of being active by exercising and encouraging him to exercise, too
- Putting limits on how much time your child is allowed to play video games, use computers, and watch TV
- Doing fun activities together as a family (like playing ball, going for a hike)
- Having a safe area for your child to play outside
- Making your home smoke-free—If you smoke, it is a good idea to quit
- Talking to your child about the dangers of smoking—If your child smokes, help him to find strategies to quit.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, the doctor may need to prescribe medicine if your child is diagnosed with a condition like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. No matter what your child’s age or risk factors, there are ways to make each day healthier. Creating routines that focus on good nutrition, exercise, and healthy habits—like not smoking—can help your child set the stage for a long life and a strong heart.