New research suggests that as early as 3 years, children can be taught healthy eating and exercise habits so as to reduce the future risk of heart problems.
Until now, the clinical community has focused on cardiovascular disease, which typically manifests in the later stages of life. The new research suggests that we need to focus our care in the opposite stage of life — promoting healthy habits as early as 3 to 5 years old, in order to prevent future cardiovascular diseases.
Past research has shown that poor eating habits at a young age can lead to heart disease later in life, and that certain types of heart disease can begin as early as age 3, the researchers said.
In this study, the researchers introduced a heart-healthy lifestyle program for more than 2,000 children. The kids were between the ages of 3 and 5.
The program focused on diet, exercise, managing emotions and an understanding of the body. It included classroom materials and take-home activities for students to do with their families, and activities associated with the schools' annual health fairs.
The children were followed for up to three years. It was found that those in the program showed better knowledge about a heart-healthy lifestyle, attitudes and habits. They were also slightly less likely to be overweight or obese than those who were not in the program.
It may not only be the cardiovascular health information from the program that is helpful but also the intellectual stimulation from and exposure to positive adult role models, which in turn influences personality traits critical for health behavior and habits in children.