As a pediatric PA and a children’s book author, I have the privilege of being involved in many pivotal moments in a child’s life. This has offered me a unique understanding of the importance of early education in pediatric health. I have seen firsthand how invaluable early and consistent guidance can be to a child’s perception of their body, and their relationship with their overall health. In my career, I’ve always found it relatively easy to explain health conditions and consequences to adults, but it has always been a bit more challenging to find the right words to explain the same concepts to children. This inspired me to write a children’s book that aims to explain the heart to children and how to keep it healthy. In addition, here are some key points about heart health to discuss with the little ones in your life.
Encourage Healthy Eating Habits and Active Lifestyle Early
The choices and habits we make as children affect our heart health very early on. There’s a misconception that the ‘bad habits as children won’t catch up with us until later in life’, but research has shown that atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque on the arteries, begins in early childhood. Some studies suggest it may start as early as 3 years old. This can be prevented, however, by encouraging balanced nutrition, such as eating fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains, and by limiting fast foods and sugary drinks. Additionally, children need to be physically active, so screen time should be limited to better allow for play or exercise. Avoiding excessive use of screen-based media and encouraging physical activity also improves sleep quality, which is associated with better health outcomes and well-being.
Know How Certain Risk Factors Can Impact Heart Health
It’s important to note that there are certain health conditions and risk factors that can contribute to heart disease later in life. Talking about your family’s health history early is important. Some conditions have modifiable risk factors such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol use. Research has shown that by avoiding or mitigating these risk factors, it is possible for plaque formation to regress, thereby preventing chronic disease.
Involve Your Child in Their Own Heart Health – Start the Conversation
It is easy to see how invaluable even a single conversation with a child on their lifestyle and health habits can be. The actual conversation, however, can sometimes be difficult to navigate. In my book “The Art of Being a Heart,” I describe the anatomy/physiology of the heart and use a fun rhyming approach to get children excited and involved in their own heart health. My hope is to facilitate healthy and meaningful conversations about health that maintain a lasting impact into adulthood.
Schedule Regular Well-Check Visits For Your Child
One last tip I will share on the importance of instilling healthy heart habits early is to schedule regular well-checks for your child. These routine visits with your child’s health care provider are incredibly important, and they can provide you and your family with more personalized information on how to get and keep a healthy heart (based on your child’s history and your family history). Your pediatric PA is there to be a partner in your child’s health journey, so I encourage you to bring any questions you have about heart health to that next visit. It’s never too early to start!