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Can Diet Reduce Stroke Risk in Children?
By Jean Stork, Registered Dietician
There are many things that can cause stroke in children, but high blood pressure and obesity have not been at the top of the list. Now that could be changing. And with that change comes the need for a new nutrition plan.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that “hypertension (high blood pressure) and prehypertension have become a significant health issue in the young.” The primary cause for the increase in blood pressure among children is obesity.
A sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits have led to an alarming increase in obesity over the past few decades. Among children and adolescents living in the United States, obesity cases have doubled since the 1980s. Today, there is a 20-percent chance that an obese four-year old child will be obese in adulthood. There is an 80-percent chance that an obese adolescent will remain obese into adulthood. Many of these children also have abnormal amounts of fat in the blood and problems with blood sugar control, which are additional risk factors for stroke.
Whether a child's stroke was caused by a heart defect or high blood pressure, good nutrition is essential to prevent future strokes.
The involvement of the entire family is recommended to enhance the likelihood that these
changes will occur. This is especially important because the parents set the standard for the activity level and eating that occurs within the home. Parents also can provide education about healthy choices outside of the home. Educating children about good nutrition is essential since fewer meals are being eaten in the home. Good eating habits start at a young age and can contribute to a healthier future for your child.
Of course, some children may have more specific nutritional needs, depending on their medical situation. So after any stroke, always ask your doctor about nutrition.
To address rising health concerns, the AAP recommends:
- weight loss, especially if the child has high blood pressure as a result of obesity
- 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day
- a limit of less than 2 hours a day of sedentary activities such as television viewing and video games
- healthy eating habits that include portion control, fewer sugary drinks and snacks,
an increase in fruits and vegetables, regular meals, and a good breakfast to start the day
- reduced sodium (salt) intake, including salt from processed foods
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