New healthy heart guidelines, starting at birth

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics have joined forces to create new recommendations to reduce heart disease…starting on Day 1 of life and going through adulthood. Although the advice to screen all preteens and teenagers for high cholesterol levels grabbed the headlines, there is quite a bit more info that parents need to be aware of.

While many of these recommendations are not new, here are the Top 10 highlights:

1. Breastfeeding helps the heart in the long term. It lowers cholesterol levels, body mass index (BMI), and reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes–all health issues that adversely affect heart health. If possible, try to breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first six months of life.

2. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages. The goal: if you are going to offer juice, make it 100% fruit juice, and offer 4 oz or less a day for babies over 6 months of age and older kids, too.

3. Drink more water! Everyone from age 1 and up.

4. At age 1, discuss milk options with your child’s doctor. For families with a history of heart disease, obesity, or high cholesterol, your pediatrician may recommend 2% or even fat-free UNFLAVORED milk for your toddler between ages 12-24months. Your child’s doc may also recommend reduced fat milk depending on your toddler’s growth, appetite, other sources of fat in his diet, and other risk factors for heart disease.

5. For ages 2-21, the milk of choice is UNFLAVORED, FAT-FREE (skim) milk.

6. Avoid trans-fats. They are most commonly found in commercial baked goods (cookies, cakes, crackers). They may say “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on the label.

7. Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300mg/day for kids over age 1 and beyond. There is about 200mg of cholesterol in one egg yolk.

8. Stop smoking during pregnancy. And, then don’t let your child pick up the habit.

9. Screen all 9-11 year olds and 17-21 year olds for elevated cholesterol.

10. Assess body mass index  (BMI) annually, starting at age 2. Check blood pressure, annually, starting at age 3. The BMI is one way to see if someone is below, at, or above his ideal body weight for his height.

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