Young children who habitually snack while watching TV might be more likely to develop heart disease in the future. There are many risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and lifestyle factors, such as activity level and diet, are important. You can be proactive and protect your child’s heart by encouraging physical activity and serving healthy snacks featuring fresh fruits and vegetables.
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Food makes the child
Children who snacked while watching television had higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (a marker for future heart disease) than children who didn’t snack while watching television, according to the conclusions of a study recently published in CMAJ, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association.
Could it be that bad eating habits prime a young child for future heart disease? Cardiologist Michael Rocco, MD, was not involved in the study, but says it “validates an approach that we have followed in our pediatric lipid and metabolic clinics for some time.” This approach includes established guidance and counseling programs about nutrition and eating habits for patients already at increased risk for heart disease.
Early intervention and family involvement
Dr. Rocco stresses that establishing healthy eating habits in young children requires “a family-oriented approach…In our high-risk young patients, the earlier we can help change behavior and promote healthy eating as a component of future cardiovascular risk reduction strategies, the better.“
The recent surge in childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes has been linked to inactivity and unhealthy eating habits, and those processed snack foods available on store shelves are often calorie dense, but nutrient poor.
What’s a parent to do?
After you get your children up off the couch and engaged in physical activity, you can provide them with nutritious options for snacks when they need to refuel.
Cleveland Clinic Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation nutrition counselor Julia Renee Zumpano, RD, LD, suggests some heart-healthy snacks for kids that you can make together and enjoy:
- Celery stalks filled with natural peanut butter and topped with raisins (also known as ants on a log!)
- Yogurt sundae: 6 ounces vanilla fat-free Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup low-fat granola and berries
- 1 slice whole grain bread with 1 tbs almond butter and sliced banana
- 1 cup of frozen grapes
- Home made popsicles with yogurt or 100% fruit juice
- Create your own snack mix with dry whole grain cereal, dried fruit and unsalted nuts
- Low fat cheese stick & apple slices
- Frozen bananas
- Baked whole grain tortilla or pita chips
For older kids:
- 2 tablespoons hummus with fresh veggies
- 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese topped with fresh fruit
- 1 boiled egg, sliced, on top of cucumber slices and topped with light dressing
- 1 whole grain brown rice cake topped with fresh salsa and low-fat shredded cheese
- Home made kettle corn; 3 cups of air popped popcorn seasoned with 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp light butter
- 1 ounce low-fat cheese and 4 whole grain crackers