June 13, 2024

In February, many focus on matters of the heart – not just those adorned with lace and ribbons but the very core of our well-being. American Heart Month is a reminder to prioritize lifestyle practices that contribute to a stronger and healthier heart. Upinder Jodhka, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, provides actionable tips to empower parents in safeguarding and nurturing their children’s cardiovascular health.

Why is it important to focus on heart health in children?

Ensuring children’s heart health is crucial because it directly influences their future as adults. Just as unhealthy habits can develop early in life, so can healthy habits. By promoting and instilling healthy habits during childhood, there’s a higher likelihood that these habits will persist into adulthood.

What specific signs or symptoms parents should watch for that might indicate a potential heart issue in their child?

Parents should be vigilant for cardiac symptoms during exercise, which could indicate a congenital heart condition or an underlying cardiac issue. These symptoms include fainting, chest pain, palpitations, feelings of a “funny or fluttery” heart, and fatigue. If these signs, especially during exercise, are observed, the child should cease activities and be assessed by a healthcare professional. Additionally, bluish or purplish skin, lips, or nails, particularly in infants, should be considered concerning.

What role does genetics play in heart disease among children, and how can families with a history of heart problems take preventive measures?

Genetics significantly influences a child’s heart health. Families with a history of congenital heart disease, sudden cardiac death under 50 years old, heart transplants, arrhythmias, or connective tissue disorders should inform their healthcare provider. Early identification of these familial conditions allows for preventative measures that can potentially save a child’s life.

How does nutrition impact heart health in children, and what dietary recommendations do you have for parents?

Nutrition is vital for a healthy heart. Parents should aim for their children to have five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, eliminate sugary beverages, restrict junk and processed foods, and ensure an adequate water intake.

What specific lifestyle habits or behaviors contribute to heart disease in children, and how can parents encourage healthier habits?

Excessive screen time is associated with poor sleep, increased obesity risk, attention issues, and delayed social skills. Limiting screen time to less than two hours per day is crucial. Parents should preview programs, games, and apps before allowing their children to engage with them and encouraging at least one hour of daily physical activity, whether through organized sports or outdoor play.

Are there routine screenings or tests that parents should consider for their children to assess heart health?

Assessing a child’s BMI (Body Mass Index) during routine pediatric visits can be beneficial for gauging heart health and obesity risk. Screening electrocardiograms may be considered if a child exhibits cardiac symptoms or has a family history of heart disease under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

How can parents communicate with their children about maintaining a healthy heart without causing anxiety or stress?

Parents should lead by example, actively adopting and demonstrating healthy behaviors. Engaging in heart-healthy activities together, such as outdoor exercises or cooking nutritious meals, empowers children to take control of their health.

What advice do you have for parents in creating a heart-healthy home environment?

Start small by making gradual changes to avoid overwhelming the entire family. Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle is a gradual process, and mutual accountability and support within the family are essential for success.

Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital has been ranked among the nation’s best for cardiology and heart surgery by U.S. News & World Report. To learn more about our world-class heart care for infants, children, and adolescents, visit online.


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