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SUNDAY, Feb. 16, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Teaching your children about heart health will pay dividends in their older years, a heart expert says.
Youngsters with heart-healthy behaviors are less likely to develop heart disease later in life, said Dr. Susan Haynes, an assistant professor in the cardiology division at Saint Louis University.
That's a message that bears repeating during February, which is designated American Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading killer of American women and men.
Before they have a child, couples should talk to their doctor about any family history of heart disease, she said.
"It's good to be proactive about knowing your family risks, making healthy choices, maintaining a good weight, lowering cholesterol and controlling blood pressure, which will keep your heart healthy," Haynes said in a university news release. "Have a conversation about the possible risk factors with your pediatrician or even obstetrician before the child is born."
Getting children to be heart healthy begins with boosting their physical-activity levels and limiting the time they spend in front of the TV or computer, she said.
"Kids between ages 2 and 5 should have no more than one to two hours of screen time a day," Haynes said. Young children who are physically active are more likely to continue being active as they grow older, she said.
Set a good example for your children by not smoking, Haynes said. Children of smokers are twice as likely to become smokers, according to research.
"If there's smoking in the household, kids will anticipate that it's a normal environment and adopt the habits," Haynes said. "It's a good idea for parents to quit smoking before the child is born."
An infant's diet can have a significant influence on heart-healthy eating habits later in life. When a child begins to drink cow's milk, be sure to check the percentage of fat in the milk that would be suitable for the child. This can be based on family risk factors and the child's usual diet, Haynes said.
She also said infants should not be given more than 4 ounces of 100 percent juice a day. Make sure the juice has no preservatives or added sugar, she said.
The American Heart Association outlines how to help kids develop healthy habits.