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Have a heart: Poor diet, lack of exercise key to low heart health scores

Poor diet and a lack of exercise are two factors that are contributing to low cardiac health scores in children, according to a Seton Healthcare press release.

Dr. Stuart Rowe, a pediatric cardiologist at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, a part of the Ascension healthcare system, said children’s low heart health scores increase the risk of future heart disease.

“Several studies show risk factors in children predict adult heart disease,” Rowe said.

Rowe said in an interview a child’s cardiac health is linked to diet and exercise. He also said there are inherited genetic disorders that can cause poor cardiac health in children as well.

Rowe blamed the obesity epidemic in the U.S. for the low scores. He added “eating the wrong foods and not exercising” contributes to the unhealthy habits that are taught to children.

According to the release, Rowe said poor diets in children could increase the risk of conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, iron deficiency, dental cavities, sleep apnea and migraine headaches.

Rowe suggested that parents provide a healthy lunch to children by packing a Mediterranean style lunch with lean proteins, nuts, cheeses and more fish and greens.

Rowe also said parents must lead by example and encourage activity in their children. That could extend to encouraging outdoor activities such as riding bicycles, walking the dog, or sports and games such as tag.

“Sitting is the new smoking,” Rowe said.

The term exercise doesn’t have to be overwhelming and require strenuous activity, he said.

“The ideal activity level for children would be about 60 minutes of activity around three or four times a week. Activities such as walking the dog, walking to and from school and walking safely to the store are good ways to get exercise,” Rowe said.

Rowe also suggests that parents help themselves and their children to cut back on drinks that contain refined sugars and instead try to drink more water to encourage better cardiac health.

“Parents need to be involved in the process. The approach of taking care of the children will actually take care of the whole family,” Rowe said. 

How do our school districts match up? 

After checking on area school districts, the News-Dispatch found that Wimberley, Hays and Dripping Springs ISDs follow State and Federal child nutrition guidelines in their menu planning.

“We (Hays CISD) use a variety of whole grain breads, pastas, and pizza crusts, reduced fat cheeses, lean protein sources, and a fresh fruit and vegetable bar served daily,” said the message to parents on the website, www.hayscisd.net.

According to the Child Nutrition information on the Wimberley ISD website, “food and beverages sold or served at school meet the nutrition recommendations of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.”

At Dripping Springs ISD, the school district adheres to the Texas Department of Agriculture’s standards and the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program to offer their students “well balanced meals that fuel successful learning.”

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