Health of our children’s hearts
When we think about heart health, you may picture the 54-year-old executive, working long hours and surviving a day puffing on cigarettes and whatever take-out is on hand.
However, our kids are now also presenting with behaviours that risk the health of their cardiovascular systems, and what they are eating has a big role to play.
Recently published by the American Heart Association in Circulation was a paper assessing data pulled from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the U.S. to see if children aged between 2 and 19 years where meeting cardiovascular health guidelines.1
Results saw that half of American kids were outside a healthy weight range, one-third admitted to smoking within the past month, and one-third to a half were getting less than the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise each day. All are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Shockingly, most were consuming diet harmful to the heart, with heavily refined and simple carbohydrates like beverages and desserts providing a majority of their daily energy intake. Oh dear.
“A primary reason for so few children having ideal cardiovascular health is poor nutrition — children are eating high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and not eating enough healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, fish and other foods strongly associated with good heart health and a healthy body weight,” said lead author Julia Steinberger.2
Cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose levels were also monitored, and seemed to fair okay. For now.
“Instead of taking a wait-and-see approach by treating disease later in adulthood, we should help children maintain the standards of ideal cardiovascular health that most children are born with,” notes Steinberger.2
Following this, the American Heart Association released another statement, this time in respect to added sugar intake.
They state kids eat far too much added sugar, triple the recommended upper limit of 6 teaspoons per day! And there is strong evidence to supporting the association of added sugars with increased cardiovascular disease risk in children through increased energy intake, increased adiposity, and dyslipidemia.3
What can we do?
So let’s support and protect the tickers of our littlies!
Firstly, getting kids to move each day is imperative. The nature of our increasingly busy lifestyles mean we, as well as our kids, are more sedentary. Aim for 60 minutes throughout a day, but if this doesn’t happen, remember every bit counts!
Reduce added sugar intake
Added sugar intake should be limited to 6 teaspoons (25g) per day in children, and avoided in kidlets under 2 years. Having some on occasion is certainly no crime, but focus should be on a diet packed with real, whole foods.
Boost veg and fruit
Upping the vegetable and fruit in kids daily diet is important. Eating a heap of veg and including some whole food sources of healthy fats can provide protective and satiating nourishment, whilst helping our children grow strong and smart!
There are some simple ways to boost nutrient density, including sneaking in veg, fruit or legumes wherever you can, like brownies with black beans, adding pureed carrots or pumpkin into cheesy sauces, or having banana “nice-cream” instead of ice-cream!
Swap junk with whole foods
We regularly eat ultra-processed foods that are nutrient-poor and energy dense foods, such as potato crisps, cookies, and sugared-up chocolate. Yet these do not sustain energy or overall health.
Gradually begin to reduce the amount of ultra-processed and discretionary foods present in the fridge and pantry – save them for special occasions – and swap out for better alternatives that can easily be thrown into a lunch box too. Think carrot sticks or roasted and spiced chickpeas, fruit with 100% and unsweetened peanut or other nut butter, or egg muffins.
When the ultra-processed and packaged foods are not in the house, everyone in the household are less likely to eat them!
Say seeya to sports drinks, soft drinks and energy drinks
Our kids have no need for drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like sports, energy or soft drinks – even if they are very active! Instead, enjoy water – tap or soda – flavoured with real foods, and experiment with flavours! Try lemon, lime, berries, apple, ginger, basil or mint in various combos.
Choose good quality real, whole foods
Choose foods that are of good quality, and close to its original form as possible. Try beef skewers instead of frankfurters; light, fresh white fish instead of fish fingers; chicken tenderloins over chicken nuggets; and whole grains over the white stuff.
Nourish your little nuggets, and their heart health will thrive!
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- Steinberger, J, Daniels, SR, Hagberg, N, Isasi, CR, Kelly, AS, Lloyd-Jones, D, Pate, RR, Pratt, C, Shay, CM, Towbin, JA, Urbina, E, Van Horn, LV, & Zachariah, JP 2016, ‘Cardiovascular Health Promotion in Children: Challenges and Opportunities for 2020 and Beyond: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association’, Circulation, [Epub ahead of print].
- American Heart Association 2016, Children score low on cardiovascular health measures, viewed 23 August 2016, <http://newsroom.heart.org/news/children-score-low-on-cardiovascular-health-measures>
- Vos, MB, Kaar, JL, Welsh, JA, Van Horn, L V, Feig, DI, Anderson, CAM, Patel, MJ, Cruz Munos, J, Krebs, NF, Xanthakos, SA & Johnson, RK 2016, ‘Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children’, Circulation, [Epub ahead of print]