Missouri parents urged to ‘lead by example’ for kids’ heart health

Heart Health news graphic

Heart disease takes more than 15,000 lives in Missouri every year, making it the number one cause of death in the state. This is the time of year when parents can step up their efforts to prevent it in the next generation. Studies indicate children as young as 10 to 14 can show the early stages of plaque building in their arteries – a precursor to heart disease. Missouri parents may wonder how they can lead their children by example toward heart-healthy outcomes.

Madelyn Alexander, marketing communications director for the American Heart Association of Missouri, said the fall is a perfect time for family time and staying active together. “Do a family walk. Get out, have the kids help you do some yard work,” Alexander said. “Raking leaves is great exercise as we move into the fall season. So, being able to get outdoors and have them walk the neighborhood, do some yard work, are all ways to get in some physical activity.”

One in five children in Missouri is overweight or obese. Starting them on heart-healthy habits can reduce the chances they will ever need to worry about cardiovascular disease. For parents, that means modeling behaviors like eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and not smoking.

Led by Washington University in St. Louis, researchers around the state are wrapping up a five-year study funded in 2019 by the CDC. They are examining the effectiveness of family-based Behavioral Treatment in low-income families, where childhood obesity rates are higher than among higher-income families. Alexander says all families, regardless of income, can participate in mindfulness and self-care to improve their health.

“Taking some time to take care of their mental health,” she explained. “So, if they see you doing meditation, disconnecting from social media or media for a while, and just reading and doing things that make us feel good, having your kids model that behavior will be good for their hearts and good for their minds.”

MO HealthNet, the Medicaid program for Missouri, has allowed for reimbursement to healthcare professionals who deliver Family-based Behavioral Treatment for obesity since 2021.