Steps to safeguard your child’s heart health
Dr Swati Garekar lists some heart-healthy habits for children
and asks parents to follow these in toto.
These days, awareness about health is on the rise. Everyone is spending time at the gym or investing in following a diet. What one also needs to realize is that childhood is when healthy heart habits should start. Unfortunately, while as adults, we are focusing on getting back to health, the stress on children’s health seems to be limited to making sure they are well fed. It is a great disservice to them as the seeds of a diseased heart are laid in childhood and adolescence. There is a study that shows the prevalence of obesity in school children in Delhi was at 29%. The numbers are likely to be similar in Mumbai. Obese children are likely to remain obese even in adulthood!
Whether we admit it or not, mothers have a crucial role to play in inculcating healthy lifestyle habits amongst children. Let us look at some heart-healthy habits for children; the changes suggested here will only be successful only if the whole family adopts them. This because ‘children will do what they see you do, and not what you tell them to do’.
DIET: THE TRADITIONAL INDIAN DIET IS HEART HEALTHY
Most of the spices we use, are medicinal. An underutilized ‘heart helpful’ food is flaxseed (alsi); this can be sprinkled over all preparations after mildly dry roasting it.
Ghee in moderation is good for health. The progressive move should be made to lessen the oil consumed in cooking. A good starting point is to date/ record the purchase of your oil, and note how long it lasts. Then aim to make the next can of oil last a week longer than the previous one. Some heart-healthy oils are rice bran, canola, sunflower, groundnut and olive oil. The total fat intake should not be more than 30% of total daily calorie need for children over two years of age.
Legumes are considered to be a superfood; a bowl of dal twice a day should be a regular part of meals. Soybean and Horse Gram (Kulith) could be used more often. A mixture of sprouted legumes are a good idea as a breakfast side, or in the lunch box as chaat.
There is a huge variety of fresh vegetables available in every season in India. We Indians tend to eat less salad in general; they provide essential vitamins & micronutrients. Consumed as starters, they fill up the stomach adequately. They can be made appealing to children by adding freshly squeezed lime juice, chat masala, chopped Almonds, Raisins, Walnuts and peeled and chopped apples.
Tiffin boxes are where the school going child gets most of his/her meals. Avoid packing pre-packaged foods as meals. Teach your child to resist peer pressure by explaining why certain foods are best avoided. It helps if their tiffin’s are attractively packed; the internet is full of ideas for this! Other than the usual tiffin, a small box for dry fruits & fresh cut fruits could be made a daily habit.
SNACKS OTHER THAN MEALS: Limit packaged food; keep fruits and dry fruits within reach of your child at home (on the side table/ dining table). Roasted Groundnuts and Chana are also healthy snack options.
EXERCISE: It is not an exaggeration to say that lack of outside play is the second reason (first being unhealthy diet) that we are seeing an increasing number of children with obesity and resultant high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, early onset of puberty and polycystic ovaries in girls. Again, if they see their parents exercising and walking/ jogging, they are more likely to develop the habit. Remember the child does not see you exercise in the gym. The older child who ‘doesn’t have time to exercise’ needs exercise the most!
ENFORCE OUTSIDE PLAY TIME FOR YOUR CHILD EVERY EVENING: Encourage participation in activity classes like field games (football, cricket, gymnastics, skating, badminton, dance, martial arts, etc. Daily walks, jogging or cycling are a good habit for older children. Sunday routines could involve the whole family. A visit to the nearest park is a better investment of your time rather than the mall.
LIMIT & TIME INTERNET USE: Limit time spent on internet surfing or gaming or watching television. Time saved from these activities can be used to play outside. A parent bragging about a two-year-old being able to operate the iPad is cringe-worthy. A simple password protect on your devices will keep the smaller child out. With the older child, this becomes tricky as they need the internet for their school assignments etc. Setting daily time limits to internet access is one way to tackle the situation.
SLEEP AND STRESS BUSTING: Good quality and quantity of sleep is essential for children. Nine hours of quality sleep is essential; make sure that your child has some free ‘unscheduled’ time every day. It is equally vital to teach children to recognize when they feel stressed and what to do about it. Yoga and meditation are simple methods to counter stress.
Some useful websites for child health are www.heart.org and www.healthychildren.org Ask your child’s paediatrician to plot out the height and weight of your child on a (standard) graph and calculate the Body Mass Index too at the child’s annual visit. There are separate BMI charts for children.
(Garekar is Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist at Fortis Hospital, Mulund)