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Children And Heart Disease

Many studies show that adult ailments such as heart disease and high blood pressure have their origins in childhood, which is why it's never too early to adopt a healthy lifestyle. On The Saturday Early Show, the final installment of our weeklong HeartScore series, Medical Correspondent Dr. Mallika Marshall introduces us to a family who is doing just that.

Like many people, John Hagi-Georges' family has a history of heart disease. But it's a legacy that he hopes to protect his daughter Dina from, so the family enrolled in a special new program to help them learn to eat healthier.

John Hagi-Georges says, "Statistics are showing that a lot of young kids are being seen with it. I didn't want Dina and other kids to be affected by it."

Dina notes, "Learning these things helps me in the long run. Learning this when I'm 11 is easier than when I'm 27."

Experts say that because of the huge surge in childhood obesity, more children are developing conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even signs of early heart disease.

Dr. Ron Lacro of Children's Hospital says, "Obesity is at the core of many of the medical problems we see in children, as they grow older and become adults."

But there are things parents can to do help protect their kids starting at an early age such as teaching them healthy eating habits, sitting down to family meals, keeping junk food out of the house, and encouraging kids to be active.

With the prevalence of TV and computers, there is a growing tendency for kids to be sedentary. Parents should start early to encourage their children to exercise, gradually increasing the level of activity. Exercise will reduce the risk for obesity in children.

Because growth and development in early childhood occur in the context of a milk-based diet naturally high in saturated fat and cholesterol, a special diet is not proposed for children younger than 2 years old. In children older than 2 years, the safety of a diet with a total fat intake in the range of 30 percent has been shown to have no negative impact on their growth.

There are several warning signs that may indicate your child could be at risk for heart problems, the most important being obesity. Studies have shown that very overweight people are more prone to heart disease. Other warning signs are a lack of exercise and Type 2 diabetes, which is becoming more prevalent in children.

Here are some tips Dr. Marshall recommends to help keep your child safe from heart disease:

Don't Mix Food & TV
Children who sit in front of the TV are more likely to eat high-fat foods. While it's important to limit the amount of time your child watches TV so that they will be more active, you also want to make sure that when they are watching TV, they are not eating high-fat snacks.

Keep Offering Rejected Foods
Not all children like fruits and vegetables and will sometimes refuse to eat them. But even if your child refuses time and again, keep offering these foods because eventually they may actually take a liking to them.

Control Food In Your Home
Research has shown that parents who try and keep too tight a rein on what their children eat may do more harm than good. So it's a good idea to help them make good choices indirectly by stocking your refrigerator and cupboards with healthful snacks and meals so that when kids do decide to eat, at least it will be something nutritious.

Ideally, making these kinds of changes should involve the whole family, because children often model the behavior of their parents.