A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that implementing a heart-healthy lifestyle during early childhood can lead to a heart-healthy lifestyle during adulthood.
For children, modifiable risk factors in children and adolescents can include smoking, obesity, physical activity, and an unhealthy diet, as well as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood glucose. According to research, children with unhealthy habits who adopt healthy habits before adulthood have similar health outcomes to those who were never unhealthy. However, less than one percent of children have ideal dietary habits and only about 50 percent of adolescents get the guideline recommended amount of physical activity.
“It’s true,” said Diana Peterson, MD, a pediatrician with Trinity Health, noting that she has seen obesity, type 2 diabetes, and sleep apnea – “all those problems we haven’t seen before” due to lack of activity – among her younger patients.
“Studies have shown that what children do now is what they’ll do as adults,” she said. “Weight, activity, the whole works. You want to get them started on it now.”
In fact, Dr. Peterson said, it’s good to start these habits with children “on day 1… when you start them eating. Don’t introduce the junk.” The “junk” includes things like juice and other sugar sweetened drinks, and snacks such as cookies and chips, she said. “I recommend getting rid of that. They should drink water and milk and have juice as a treat, but not as a daily thing.”
Peterson recommends the 5-2-1-0 Rule:
5: five or more servings of vegetables
2: no more than two hours screen time for adolescents (and less than an hour a day for preschool-aged children)
1: one hour of physical activity a day
0: zero sugar-sweetened beverages
However, to make this stick, Dr. Peterson recommends that parents also set a good example by adopting the same habits. “Children tend to model after the parents,” she said. “It has to be a family thing. The parents have to buy into it and improve their lifestyle as well.”