Heart-healthy habits in children

By Karen Stokes

doctor joseph block
Pediatric Cardiology, Children’s Wisconsin
(Photo/Children Wisconsin)

The Doctor. Joseph Block, a pediatric cardiologist, directs the Healthy Hearts Clinic at Children’s Hospital. The clinic mainly deals with children with hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease.

“We try to see children early if possible because in our society there are sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits and it is much easier to intervene early in life and teach children to eat. It is much easier to do this at an early age than it is in adulthood. Most of our families struggle with this, so while we focus on the child, we try to promote things that the whole family needs to do,” said Dr. Block.

Children always seem to be hungry, especially between meals. While sugary and salty foods may be the “go to” snacks, there are better, healthier options.

The Doctor. Block offered suggestions for healthy snacks: “Whole-grain pretzels, low-fat cheeses, making fruit smoothies with Greek yogurt, really promoting fruit and veggies and whole-grain options are essential, also whole-wheat pita and veggie hummus, or making a homemade trail mix with whole grains, nuts and fruit. I think they are great options.”

Along with a healthy diet, kids need to keep moving. A real exercise goal should be 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity and less than two hours a day of screen time, which leads to a lack of physical activity.

“They can get that amount of exercise in gym class, but I think more and more schools are struggling to have a gym every day, so really that’s our goal, we want kids to play and have fun,” said Dr. . Block. “It is important for overall physical health. When children are more sedentary, it increases weight problems and can further exacerbate diabetes and hypertension problems.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding screens for children younger than 18 to 24 months, except when video chatting with family. The AAP also recommends limiting screen use for preschoolers, ages 2 to 5, to just one hour a day of high-quality programming (think Sesame Street or PBS).

A healthy routine can help kids feel better, improve mental health, and lessen and prevent conditions like anxiety and depression.

For information about healthy foods and choices for your family, visit: Children’s Wisconsin, American Academy of Pediatrics, or the American Heart Association websites.

Heart-healthy habits in children

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