The American Heart Association released new guidelines last week that aim to fight heart disease before it gets started in children.
The guidelines encourage parents to limit high-fat food, salt and sugar for all children starting after age two, and to limit sedentary activities such as television and computer time.
These recommendations are consistent with guidelines from other health experts. For example, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should go to skim milk at age two. The only difference between 2% milk and skim milk is the fat content.
And for children at high risk, such as those who are obese or who already have high cholesterol or blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends education, weight management programs, a low salt diet or cholesterol- or blood pressure-lowering drugs if tests show it's necessary.
Eating behaviors are acquired early in childhood. If you are programmed to select healthy foods early in life, you will select healthy foods later in life. We tend to like what our parents fed us, say the researchers.
The guidelines stress the importance of diet and exercise for all children, with more rigorous intervention for those who are overweight. Reducing sedentary behavior is important, for instance limiting computer and TV time to two hours a day.
The guidelines call for a family-oriented approach, including weight management strategies geared to all overweight family members.
The same approach is recommended for all family members who smoke.
A child's weight and blood pressure should be measured during every physical exam, and physical exercise and diet should be discussed at every visit, as well.
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