Keeping Kids Heart Healthy

Pediatricians as well as the American Heart Association advocate for seven simple steps to maintain heart-healthy habits in young children.

HeartHealthyKids01Watch Your Weight

Since many young people are constantly growing, a healthy weight for children and teens depends on their age and height. Height and weight measurements determine your body mass index (BMI). Keeping track of your BMI is a good way to make sure your weight is staying in healthy ranges. Every inch you gain in height, you can gain two to three pounds to keep your BMI the same.

HeartHealthyKids07Be Active

Regular physical activity keeps your heart healthy and strong and it helps you build healthy muscles, bones and joints. HealthPoint Fitness offers children of members and non-members a wide array of fun-filled programs that build a foundation of fitness habits that lasts a lifetime.

HeartHealthyKids05Control Cholesterol

About 25 percent of cholesterol comes directly from what you eat, so we have a lot of control of those numbers. Choose foods low in saturated fat and trans fats and high in whole grains.

HeartHealthyKids06Manage Blood Pressure

When you’re an adult, a healthy range for blood pressure is the same for everyone, but when you are a child or adolescent, healthy blood pressure depends on your age and height. Talk to your pediatrician to be sure you know the best number for your child.

HeartHealthyKids04Eat Healthy

A heart-healthy diet for children and teens includes eating four or five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. A diet rich in fruits and veggies provides vitamins and minerals, which are important for supporting growth and development, and for optimal immune function in children. High daily intakes of fruits and vegetables among adults are associated with lower rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes

HeartHealthyKids02Avoid Tobacco

Smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes or vapes or using smokeless tobacco (also called dip, snuff or chew) are some of the worst things you can do to your body. Using ANY tobacco product damages nearly EVERY organ in your body and can cause heart disease and cancer.

HeartHealthyKids03Reduce Blood Sugar

Experts recommend that children, teens and adults drink less than 36 ounces (or three 12-ounce cans) of sugar-sweetened beverages per week.


Get and Stay Active

Eight-year-old Kenyan Kelpe happily ran his first 5K when he was three years old. His sister Nola ran her first race last year at age 4. Add that to swimming and soccer as well as playtime in the local parks around Cape Girardeau and the two kids are keeping active almost every day.


“Our philosophy has always been to just get them outside and find fun stuff to do to stay active,” says their mother Kim Kelpe. “They play, ride bikes, run and do a lot of things like that.”

Kim and her husband Bryan have made it a priority to keep their kids active and healthy. The two, who own and operate the Missouri Running Company in Cape Girardeau, also pay attention to good eating habits. “I think if we serve as role models for our kids, – exercising and eating right – they will be more likely to do the same,” Kim says.

The Right Path

Pediatricians say that’s the right way to start and keep kids heart healthy. “We want kids to have a minimum of one hour of exercise each day,” says Board-certified Pediatrician Greg Cugini, MD, of Southeast Pediatrics in Cape Girardeau. “That doesn’t have to be hard exercise. It could be something simple like walking, riding a bike or playing in the front yard.” When children are two years old, Dr. Cugini starts tracking eating and exercise habits along with their body mass index.

“That’s the age when we start to have the ability to control what a child eats and we can identify any of the key preventable risk factors, such as poor nutrition or inactivity,” he explains. He advocates that parents learn to read nutrition labels on all food products, keeping an eye out for hidden fat and sugars. Fresh fruit, vegetables and plenty of water – not juice or soda – can go a long way in starting kids on the right path to good heart health. Cutting out sweets, whole milk and fatty foods also should be a priority.

A Way of Life

The CDC statistics are eye-opening because the risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol increase among overweight and obese individuals.

“Talking about weight can be a hard conversation to have with parents and children,” says Dr. Cugini. “We also have a generation of kids who are sitting at school all day and then coming home and sitting while watching television or playing video games, so I think technology sometimes gets in the way of a healthier lifestyle too. We always are encouraging families to watch what they eat and to keep moving.”

For the Kelpe family, movement is a way of life. On both sides of their family, Kim and Bryan have a history of diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Since they were kids themselves, however, they have continuously been fans of exercise and competitive sports, including basketball, softball and running. The two have served as community advocates for healthy living. “Sometimes our kids are our own best motivators,” adds Kim. “We take them for walks and the next thing you know, we’re all running!” “They even got my wife and me into running,” laughs Dr. Cugini. “I ran my first half-marathon last year and I’m down 29 pounds. I’m practicing what I tell my patients and I know it pays off in the long run in terms of keeping myself healthy for as long as possible.”