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Guidelines Aim for a Head Start on Lowering Heart Risk

Prevention* With obesity rates rising among children, the American Heart Assn. recommends 'lifestyle training' to stave off cardiac disease.


American children, already the fattest generation ever, should undergo "lifestyle training" to help them avoid heart disease later in life, the American Heart Assn. says.

In recently published guidelines for doctors and parents, the association recommended specific ways to improve kids' nutrition, activity levels and overall health.

Obesity rates among U.S. children have doubled during the last two decades, putting the current generation of kids at risk for developing heart disease at an earlier age than their parents' generation.

"People know that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, but they don't fully realize that it's a silent process that begins in childhood," says Dr. Christine L. Williams, lead author of the report.

The guidelines, published in the July 1 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Assn., suggested these strategies to help prevent heart disease:

* Parents should teach their children that a "healthy plate" is half filled with salad and vegetables, one-fourth with starchy foods and one-fourth with protein, such as meat, poultry or fish.

* After age 2, children should drink low-fat or fat-free milk instead of whole milk.

* Sedentary activities, such as video games and television, should have time limits.

* Physical activities, not food, should be used to reward accomplishments.

* Instead of talking about exercise, doctors and parents should encourage play and activities.

* Doctors should assess children's physical activity levels as early as preschool.

* Physical education should be encouraged at school.

* Parents should consider summer camps as a way to keep children active during the idle break.

* Parents should encourage interest in a sport or activity that can be enjoyed throughout life.

* Doctors should measure blood pressure in children after age 3.

* Children's cholesterol levels should be monitored in families in which cardiovascular health risk factors are present.

* Age-specific anti-smoking messages should be given to children throughout their school years.

Young children should be encouraged to avoid smoky environments and trying "even a puff."

Adolescents should be warned about the immediate consequences of smoking, such as bad breath, the smell of smoke, and nicotine-stained fingers and teeth. Teens should be taught how to resist peer pressure.

* Parents should be role models in their own eating habits and lifestyles.

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