The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a statement this month in the journal Circulation saying that most kids in the United States are not meeting AHA standards for optimal cardiovascular health—and the main culprit is an unhealthy diet.
“A primary reason for so few children having ideal cardiovascular health is poor nutrition—children are eating high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and not eating enough healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, fish and other foods strongly associated with good heart health and a healthy body weight,” said lead author Dr. Julia Steinberger.
Not surprisingly, sugar is a big part of the problem—from sugary foods and beverages to simple carbs that offer no real nutrient value. Shortly after issuing their statement on children’s heart health, AHA experts released the following new recommendations for children and sugar:
- Children ages 2 to 18 should consume fewer than six teaspoons of added sugars per day (about 25 grams or 100 calories)
- Children and teens should limit their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks to no more than eight ounces weekly
- Children under 2 years should not consume foods or beverages with added sugars, including sugar-sweetened drinks
In addition to diet, a lack of physical activity was also a contributing factor. Even though the AHA recommends an hour of exercise each day, only about half of kids ages 6 to 11 are reaching that goal. And for those in their late teens, only 10 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls are getting the recommend 60 minutes.
Researchers hope the new information will serve as a reminder that heart-healthy habits begin early—and that parents, teachers, and other care providers play a big role in encouraging a healthy diet and lifestyle.