These days there is increased awareness about health, and everyone spends time at the gym or follow a diet. What one also needs to realise is that childhood is when healthy heart habits should start.
Unfortunately, as adults, we are focusing on while getting back to health, the stress on children’s health seems to be limited to making sure they are well fed. It is a great disservice to them as the seeds of a diseased heart are laid in childhood and adolescence.
There is a study which shows the prevalence of obesity in school children in Delhi was at 29%. The numbers are likely to be similar in Mumbai. Which means obese children to remain obese even in adulthood!
Whether we admit it or not, mothers have a crucial role to play in inculcating healthy lifestyle habits amongst children. Let us look at some heart-healthy habits for children; the changes suggested here will only be successful if the whole family adopts them. It is because children will do what they see you do, and not what you tell them to do.
Diet: The traditional, heart-healthy Indian diet
Spices: Most spices that we use are medicinal. An underutilised ‘heart helpful’ food is flaxseed (Alsi), it can be sprinkled over all preparations after dry roasting it.
Ghee in moderation is good for health. The progressive move lessens oil consumption in cooking. A good starting point is to date/ record the purchase of your oil, and note how long it lasts.
Then aim to make the next can of oil last a week longer than the previous one. Some heart-healthy oils include rice bran, canola, sunflower, groundnut, and olive oil. The total fat intake should not be more than 30% of daily calorie need for children over the age of two.
Legumes are considered to be a superfood; a bowl of dal twice a day should be a regular part of meals. Soybean and Horse Gram (Kulith) could be used more often. A mixture of sprouted legumes is a good idea as a breakfast side, or in the lunch box as chaat.
There is a variety of fresh vegetables available in every season in India. We Indians tend to eat less salad in general; they provide essential vitamins and micronutrients. Consumed as starters, they fill up the stomach adequately. They can be made appealing to children by adding freshly squeezed lime juice, chat masala, chopped almonds, raisins, walnuts and peeled and chopped apples.
Tiffin boxes are where the schoolgoing child gets most of his/her meals. Avoid packing pre-packaged foods as meals. Teach your child to resist peer pressure by explaining why to avoid certain foods. It helps if their tiffins are attractively packed; the internet is full of ideas for this! Other than the usual tiffin, a small box for dry fruits & fresh fruits could be made a daily habit.
Snacks, other than meals:
Limit packaged food, keep fruits and dry fruits within reach of your child at home (on the side table/ dining table). Roasted Groundnuts and Chana are also healthy snack options.
It is not an exaggeration to say that lack of outside play is the second reason (first being unhealthy diet) that we are seeing an increasing number of children with obesity and resultant high cholesterol, Hypertension, Diabetes, early onset of puberty and polycystic ovaries in girls.
Again, if they watch their parents exercising, walking/ jogging, they are more likely to develop the habit. Remember, children cannot see you exercise in the gym. The older child, who ‘don’t have time to exercise’ needs exercise the most!
Enforce outside play time for your child every evening
Encourage participation in activity classes like field games (football, cricket) gymnastics, skating, badminton, dance classes, martial arts, and others.
Daily walks, jogging or cycling are a good habit for children.
Sunday routines could involve the whole family. A visit to the nearest park is a better investment of your time rather than the mall.
Limit and time internet use
Limit time spent on internet surfing or gaming or watching television. Time saved from these activities can be used to play outside. A parent bragging about a 2-year-old being able to operate the iPad is cringe-worthy. A simple password protects on your devices and will keep the younger child out.
With the older child, this becomes tricky, as they need internet for school assignments and others. Setting daily time limits to internet access is one way to tackle the situation.
Sleep and stress busting
Quality and quantity of sleep are essential for children. Nine hours of quality sleep is crucial; make sure that your child has some free ‘unscheduled’ time every day. It is equally vital to teaching children to recognize when they feel stressed and what to do about it. Yoga and meditation are simple methods to counter stress.
Some useful websites for child health are www.heart.org, and www.healthychildren.org .Ask your child’s paediatrician to plot out the height and weight of your child on a (standard) graph and calculate the Body Mass Index (BMI) too at the child’s annual visit. There are separate BMI charts for children.