As a parent, you would like to think that you are raising a healthy and happy child who will grow up to live a long, fulfilled life. It is all very well to think this, but are you doing anything about it? Your child may appear healthy, but do you really know what’s going on inside? Are you looking after your child’s heart?
From the beginning
There are, of course, cases where people are born with heart conditions (congenital heart disease) who will either never require treatment or who might need corrective surgery shortly after birth, and there are some born who grow up unaware of a condition or any potential problems. Considering that one in every 145 babies are affected by heart disease - whether or not your child is one of them - it is important to be aware of the factors which could affect your child’s heart and general health now and in the future.
Are you setting an example?
As individuals, we are in control of our own health and, in effect, it is up to us how we lead our lives. But when children are involved there is the added responsibility of being answerable to the health of those other than ourselves. In other words, we should be setting an example.
Taking heed of advice may not seem like fun at the time, but when the message eventually does sink in it doesn’t seem so bad after all. It can be difficult for a child to understand what it is they should be doing in order to comprehend right from wrong. Health and lifestyle are very much learnt up to the point where young people can make decisions for themselves and until that point is reached, guidance is essential. The children are looking to you!
It can be easy to be a good parent – providing a balanced diet; taking scenic Sunday walks on the local green; encouraging your child to appreciate a healthy mind and body. Such actions not only offer a healthier way of life, but also quality time for the family to spend together. Showing your child that you, as the parent, are actively taking part in, benefiting from and enjoying all that you want your child to experience is a sign to them that this is the right thing to do.
Eating fast food in front of the telly every evening, uncomfortably overweight, may well be normal practise to them if that’s what they are familiar with and see as acceptable. Children really are impressionable.
When they’re not under your watchful eye
Overseeing our children’s health at home can be done easily enough, but what about when they are at school or out with friends?
Yes, you can pack a healthy, fun lunch in an equally fun lunchbox and send your child off to school in the hope that they’ll enjoy it, but that is as far as your control goes. When they get to school the kids are on their own; whether or not they choose to eat what you have given them is up to them (perhaps with the help from a firm, but fair dinner lady). For more on schoolchildren’s healthy packed lunches, take a look at the British Heart Foundation’s top tips for a healthy lunchbox.
And what can you do when they’re old enough to go out with friends? You won’t be there to hold their hand when they’re deciding between a fruit salad and cheeseburger; in the cinema debating between sweet or salted popcorn; or exposed to online marketing of junk food, with such advertising made accessible by various technology and media. For more on this, take a look at the report The 21st century gingerbread house: How companies are marketing junk food to children online produced by The Children’s Food Campaign in association with The British Heart Foundation.
Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation has said: "Packing a healthy lunch for your child can help to make sure they get the right energy and nutrients they need for the school day. It is also important for children to learn about healthy eating at a young age, so that they can continue to keep their hearts healthy as they grow up."
Parents can only hope that all they have installed in their children regarding a healthy lifestyle will be taken into account when it matters the most. They’ll have children of their own one day...
Keep that heart ticking
Getting our children to lead healthy and active lifestyles can be tricky, especially if we find it hard to adhere to them ourselves. By getting to grips with the basics and striving to be as healthy as we can, we can make informed choices about our health now to decrease the risks of heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol and general poor wellbeing, amongst others.
With problems of unhealthy lifestyles on the rise our efforts must be redoubled in order to identify, manage and possibly prevent heart conditions earlier in life, said the Rt Hon Kevin Barron MP, Former Chair of the Health Select Committee in the HeartUK’s report, ‘Cholesterol and a healthier nation’ (2011). “[T]he responsibility rests with all of us, not just the NHS.”
We know what we have to do.
Preparation for a healthy and happy future – it’s a piece of cake!