Many people assume that high cholesterol is a problem that affects middle-aged adults only. In fact, many people don’t even worry about their cholesterol when they are younger, eating all the fatty convenience foods they want, assuming that their early diet makes no difference.
Nothing could be further from the truth. More children today suffer from high cholesterol. In fact, the numbers of children who are taking cholesterol drugs is on the rise. Some studies have suggested that a childhood of poor eating choices can contribute to higher cholesterol later in life.
Besides this, many of the eating habits learned in childhood affects eating in adulthood. Children who are used to eating high-fat foods and convenience foods are more likely to make the same choices as adults.
Switching to healthy foods in adulthood may be harder for children who have made less-than-heart-healthy food choices all their lives. For all these reasons, controlling food intake and lifestyle choices even in early life can contribute to life-long heart health and good cholesterol levels.
If you have children, you can help ensure that they make the right food choices that can help them with their cholesterol levels now and later in life. In fact, if you and other members of your family have high cholesterol, you need to introduce your children to cholesterol-healthy eating, as your children may be at an increased risk of developing high cholesterol themselves.
Luckily, it is not that hard to teach your children how to make smart food and lifestyle choices that are heart-healthy:
• Teach your children about healthy eating and cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol yourself, you may want to speak to your children about this. Informed children are better able to make smart food choices that can help keep their cholesterol levels healthy later in life.
• Let children make healthy food choices for themselves. Give your children some say about the fruits, vegetables and other foods that they like. Go through heart-healthy cookbooks with your children and let them help you decide what recipes to try.
• Be careful of the food and cholesterol attitudes you convey to your children. Children pick up emotional cues from their parents. If you treat a cholesterol-friendly diet as a type of punishment, your children will likely see it the same way.
If your children see you turn to fatty junk food when you are depressed or feeling stressed, they will likely do the same thing. Many parents are fussy eaters and pass this on to their children, which is a terrible disservice. Fussy eaters will simply not try the different healthy foods out there simply because the foods are “different.”
• Do not reward children with food. If your child does well at a sport or gets great grades in school, do not take them to a restaurant or for take-out to celebrate. Give them horseback riding lessons or let them choose a toy or favorite activity instead. Many parents are tempted to keep sweet foods such as cupcakes and cakes for “special occasions” and “special treats” but this inadvertently makes children associate sugary foods with good times and vegetables with punishment or everyday life.
• Take your children food shopping – especially when you are shopping for fresh produce. Let your children choose which vegetables, fruits, and other healthy foods they would like. Encourage your children to decide which fruits and vegetables look as though they might be tasty. Treat your produce shopping trip as an adventure and your children may be more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables without a fuss.
• Monitor what your children eat. As a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure that your children eat three meals a day that include foods that are low in fats and high in nutrients. Reduce the amount of sugars and fats your children eat and limit how much junk food is allowed.
• Become involved in your child’s school lunch program or cafeteria. Many schools offer less than healthy school lunches as well as vending machines full of sugary foods. At a number of schools, though, parents have banded together to force school boards to provide better foods choices for students. Use this as your inspiration to make sure that your child can make healthy foods choices in school.
• If you are worried about what your children eat, consider taking them to a nutritionist who can help teach them what they should be eating.
• Even if your child has elevated cholesterol levels, realize that growing children still need more fats and nutrients than adults. Never simply place your child on a very low-fat diet – consult with a pediatrician to find a diet plan that can help your child grow while keeping cholesterol under control. A too-low-fat diet may affect childhood development.
• Teach your children about the dangers of smoking. Smoking is a risk factor for cancers, heart disease, and high cholesterol.
• Get your children to exercise. Virtually all health experts agree that North American children do not exercise enough. This has disastrous effects on cholesterol levels and overall health. One of the best things you can do to keep your children away from the dangers of high cholesterol is to get them to exercise at least a little each day. Find an activity they enjoy and encourage them in their activity.
• If your child smokes, is overweight, or has at least one parent who has a cholesterol level of more than 240mg/dl, your child is at an increased risk of high cholesterol – even at an early age. Take you child to the doctor – especially if your child has more than one of the risk factors – for a complete check-up and cholesterol check.