Thursday, March 13, 2008

Eat Well for Your Sake – and Your Kids’

Recently I sat in the cardiovascular intensive care unit with a patient who had undergone open-heart surgery. As we reviewed the nutrition therapy recommended for heart health after surgery – low fat/cholesterol/sodium, portion-controlled – he looked at me and said, “Obesity is going to bankrupt our country.”

We proceeded to discuss the dangers of an increasingly overweight American youth (more than 9 million American children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight) and the fact that if we as a nation don’t eat better and exercise more, starting with our youngsters, we will truly break the American healthcare bank.

With that in mind, I read with interest the view of Dr. Vincent Marks of the University of Surrey that our perception of an obesity epidemic, with dire consequences, has been exaggerated. This contradicts what experts have been saying for years.

A number of studies have found that cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in childhood are associated with an increase in CVD as an adult. Given that CVD (including stroke, hypertension and rheumatic heart disease) has been the No. 1 killer in the United States since 1900 (except for 1918 when a worldwide influenza epidemic took first place), that is pretty strong evidence that we have to teach our children how to eat healthfully while they are young and impressionable (and we are paying for their groceries).

Four of six risk factors for CVD (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes) are nutrition related and all (including tobacco use and physical activity) are under our control.

To help you make healthier choices for you and your children (and the future of our nation), the American Heart Association presents the following strategies for individuals over the age of 2:

  • Balance dietary calories with physical activity to maintain normal growth.
  • Set aside 60 minutes each day for moderate-to-vigorous play or physical activity.
  • Eat vegetables and fruits daily and limit juice intake.
  • Use vegetable oils and soft margarines low in saturated fat and trans-fatty acids instead of butter or most other animal fats in the diet.
  • Eat whole grain breads and cereals rather than refined grain products.
  • Reduce intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods.
  • Consume nonfat or low-fat milk and dairy products daily.
  • Eat more fish, especially oily fish, broiled or baked.
  • Reduce salt intake, including salt from processed foods.

    --Rosemarie Lembo James, RD, CNSD, LD/N
    Clinical Director of Nutrition Services

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