Great info, tips and tricks to protect tiny tickers

Did you know that you can help protect your child from the number one cause of death—heart disease—almost as soon as she is born?

Getting your child started on the right foot with food choices, an active lifestyle and some hidden heart secrets will help protect against obesity, autoimmune disease, diabetes, heart disease and cancer when your child reaches adulthood.

More than one reason to brush those teeth

Believe it or not, regular and thorough teeth brushing plays a significant role in heart health maintenance. Good oral hygiene prevents plaque build-up in both your child’s mouth and heart. Chronic mouth infections can be the cause of problems in other parts of the body including the heart.

Gum disease and plaque can painlessly become severe with bad hygiene, hurting your child’s heart and oral health.

Making sure your children get into a habit of brushing regularly and taking them to get their teeth professionally cleaned every six months can keep their heart and mouth healthy, and decrease their risk of heart disease in the future.

The key to a healthy heart is good habits that start early in life. These small and little known habits can help lead to better heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease for your child now and in the future.

Making a difference with healthy habits

If you’re like many parents, you struggle just to get your preschooler to eat a few bites at mealtime. When dealing with fussy eaters, heart health and proper weight is usually not top of mind.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the childhood obesity rate has more than tripled in the United States in the past three decades. Nearly 20 percent of adolescents were considered obese in 2008, compared to only five percent in 1980. The rate of six-to 11-year-olds considered obese has also skyrocketed, from 6.5 percent almost 20 percent.

Today, obesity is a problem for children as young as preschoolers. Even toddlers and preschoolers can suffer from this serious medical condition that increases their risk factors for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and bone and joint problems as well as other issues, including poor self-esteem.

“The problem is these medical conditions just don’t go away,” said Dr. Reginald Washington, chief medical officer for the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children and a leading national expert on combating child-hood obesity. “Unless changes are made in their lifestyle and their diet, they will deal with serious medical issues for the rest of their lives.”

Fortunately, according to Dr. Washington, you can play an active role and lower the risk of obesity for your pre-schooler by following three simple family routines.

Plan family meals

Research shows that four-year-olds who eat dinner with their families have a lower rate of obesity than children who don’t.

There are many reasons kids miss or skip meals, according to Dr. Washington:

One is cost—the family may not have the resources for three square meals a day.

Another is a hectic lifestyle. Many families miss meals because they simply don’t have the time to sit down together.

Whatever the reason, Dr. Washington noted at when you miss a meal, you will likely end up hungrier later, and that can lead to overeating.

Find a good sleep routine

Every child is different, but from preschool through lower elementary grades, children need an average of 10 to 13 hours of sleep a day, whether they are napping or not. This is usually more than parents allow time for. If a child has poor sleep habits or refuses to go to bed, the parents often assume the child just doesn’t need the sleep. That’s usually not the case—in fact, it’s likely that the child is sleep-deprived, hence the difficulty in getting to sleep at bedtime.

Research confirms lack of sleep may alter hormones so that children end up consuming more food, as well as the wrong kinds of food. Sleepy children are also less physically active during their waking hours simply because they are tired.

Turn the TV off

Preschool children aged two and older should spend no more than two hours each day watching television or using the computer, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Sadly, most American preschoolers exceed these recommendations and the extra time spent in sedentary activity may be linked to obesity.

The most important thing you can do for your preschooler, Dr. Washington said, is to make heart-healthy living a priority for the whole family.

“When we see an obese child, we obviously need to change the family behavior. It doesn’t work to tell your child to eat lots of vegetables and fruit while you keep eating potato chips and candy. It has to be a whole family adventure,” he said.