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Valentine's Day: a good time to talk about heart health

Think of heart health on the day of "hearts"
Think of heart health on the day of "hearts"ThinkStock.com

When we think of Valentine’s Day, most of us think of hearts, whether they’re on a Valentine’s card, or heart-shaped pieces candies in all shapes and sizes.

Experts at Children.org http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Pages/default.aspx suggest that Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to focus not just on the heart-shaped cards and candies, but on heart health. What better time to talk to your children about the importance of eating a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle to ensure that the heart inside of them stays “happy and healthy”?

“American children and adolescents, on average, eat more saturated fat and have higher blood cholesterol levels than young people their age in most other developed countries. The rate of heart disease tends to keep pace with cholesterol levels. One study found early signs of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in 7% of children between ages 10 and 15 years, and the rate was twice as high between ages 15 and 20,” the website states.

Additionally, the American Heart Association (AMA) http://www.heart.org reminds us that a heart-healthy diet from an early age lowers cholesterol and if followed through adolescence and beyond, should reduce the risk of coronary artery disease in adulthood.

Children who are older than 2 years need to be fed a heart-healthy diet, says the AMA including low-fat dairy products. Reduced-fat milk is recommended for children between the ages of 12 months and 2 years with a family history of obesity, abnormal blood fats, or cardiovascular disease.

According to a study published in the journal "Gerontology" http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24434909, "The severity and frequency of childhood obesity has increased significantly over the past three to four decades." It also reminds us that "consequences of obesity include an increased risk of developing the metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes."

So this Valentine’s Day, a day of abundant “hearts,” talk with your children about keeping their heart healthy. The AMA advises "Eat the rainbow!": A fun and tasty way to make sure your kids (and you) are eating enough fruits and vegetables is to eat as many different colors as you can at each meal. They suggest letting your kids grocery shop with you so they can help you pick out colorful, healthy food.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and here’s to healthy hearts!