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Prevention of Heart Disease Starts in Childhood

Woman and daughter are in the kitchen getting ready to spread peanut butter on some celery

You may think of heart disease as a problem for adults, not your young children. But diet and exercise habits started in childhood can begin a lifetime of heart health . . . or a lifetime of heart damage.

Some of the preventable causes of adult heart disease that begin in childhood are:

  • Obesity

  • Buildup of plaque (or fat deposits) in the arteries

  • Unhealthy changes in cholesterol levels

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

Although it’s true that heart disease risk can run in families, a healthy diet can help every child reduce heart disease risk. If heart disease does run in your child’s family, talk with your child’s health care provider about whether to have your child’s cholesterol and blood pressure measured regularly, in addition to watching weight.

Healthy food, healthy hearts

A balanced diet is essential for children and adolescents, not just to prevent heart disease, but also to encourage healthy growth and development. A diet that prevents heart disease contains two important parts. The first is keeping daily calories at the right level. Eating too many calories can cause weight gain, which is hard on the heart. The second is limiting fat. The USDA recommends that children limit the amount of fats—especially saturated fats—that they eat. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature.

Here are guidelines for creating a heart-healthy childhood diet:

  • Breastfeed infants as long as possible. Aim for a full year, even as you introduce solid foods.

  • Feed your child mostly fruits and vegetables, with whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.

  • Watch portion sizes. The recommended daily amounts of healthy foods for children are:

    • 2 ounces of lean protein (fish, chicken) every day for children between 2 and 3 years old, 3–4 ounces for children 4–8 years old, and 5–6 ounces for children 9 to 18 years old

    • 2 cups of low-fat dairy for children under 8, and 3 cups for children 9–18

    • 1.5 cups of fruit

    • 2.5 cups of vegetables

    • 6 ounces of whole grains

  • Avoid eating fast food too often. If you do eat out, make healthy choices (a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a bacon cheeseburger, for example) and keep portion sizes reasonable.

  • Avoid sugary drinks. Instead, serve water and low-fat milk.

  • Limit juice to less than 6 ounces per day and make sure it’s 100 percent fruit juice.

  • Total fat should be no more than 30 to 35 percent of total daily calories for children 2 to 3 years old and 25 to 35 percent of calories for those up to 18 years old. Choose healthier fats: the mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

  • Choose whole grains, such as brown rice, over refined grains, such as white rice, for added nutrients and fiber.

  • Don’t require children to finish everything on their plate. Allow children to tell you when they feel full and are done.

Healthy lifestyle, healthy heart

Many daily choices that children and adolescents make affect their heart disease risk. Here are some choices you can encourage your children and teens to make that will help protect their hearts:

  • Get about 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week in childhood. This can be broken up throughout the day into two or more periods of activity.

  • Since many kids trade being active for sitting in front of the television or a computer, keep screen time to less than two hours per day.

  • Don’t smoke. Ban smoking in your house and avoid places where people smoke cigarettes.

Remember that you are the most important role model for your kids. Your children and teens will learn their best heart healthy choices by watching you.

Dr. Patricia Rowe-King

Patricia Rowe-King, MD
Chair of the Department of Pediatrics

Dr. Rowe-King started her career as a private practice pediatrician at Suncoast Pediatrics in Fort Lauderdale where she stayed for six years before joining the staff at Chris Evert Children’s Hospital in 1997. In 2006, Dr. Rowe-King was named assistant medical director of Pediatrics at Chris Evert Children’s Hospital. She has also served as chair of the credentialing and qualifications committee at Broward General Medical Center and is an assistant clinical professor at Nova Southeastern University . Dr. Rowe-King is also medical director for a medical mission team in the Dominican Republic. Read more...

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Dr. Francis A. Amador

Francis A. Amador, MD, FAAP, PA
Medical Director of Pediatric Emergency Services

Dr. Amador serves as medical director of pediatric emergency services at Chris Evert Children's Hospital at Broward General Medical Center.

Dr. Amador received his bachelor's degree from the Universidad Interamericana de Arecibo in Puerto Rico. He attended Universidad Central del Caribe School of Medicine in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. He served his residency at Miami Children's Hospital and a pediatric emergency fellowship at Boston City Hospital Trauma Center.

He has been attending pediatric emergency room physician in various hospitals in South Florida including Miami Children's Hospital, Mercy Hospital, St. Mary's Medical Center, Parkway Regional Medical Center, Baptist Hospital, Kendal Regional Medical Center and Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. Read more...

Dr. Aldolfo Gonzalez-Garcia

Aldolfo Gonzalez-Garcia, MD
Medical Director of the Regional Perinatal Intensive Care Center (RPICC)

Dr. Gonzalez-Garcia is a perinatologist at Chris Evert Children's Hospital at Broward General Medical Center. He also serves as medical director for the Regional Perinatal Intensive Care Center (RPICC), assisting with all maternal fetal medicine consultations.

Dr. Gonzalez-Garcia received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Puerto Rico. He did his residency in OB/GYN at Louisiana State University and a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Dr. Michele A. Markley

Michele A. Markley, MD
Pediatric Surgery

Michele A. Markley, MD is a Board Certified Pediatric General Surgeon who practices at Chris Evert Children's Hospital, within Broward General Medical Center, and at Coral Springs Medical Center.


Dr. Markley received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Medical Illustration as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Tulane University. She obtained her Medical Degree from University of Miami and completed her General Surgery Residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Dr. Markley was a Senior Registrar at The Hospital For Sick Children and a Research Fellow at The Institute of Child Health both in London, England. She completed her Pediatric Surgery Fellowship at The Children's Hospital of Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City, OK. Read more...


Dr. Bruce A. Miller

Bruce A. Miller, MD
Medical Director of Pediatric Ophthalmology

Dr. Miller is medical director of pediatric ophthalmology at Chris Evert Children's Hospital at Broward General Medical Center.

He received his undergraduate degree from Tulane University and his medical degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine. He served his internship at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, his residency at George Washington University Medical Center and his fellowship at the James H. Hall Eye Foundation of Atlanta.

Dr. Eduardo A. Otero

Eduardo A. Otero, MD, FAAP
Medical Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Dr. Otero is medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Chris Evert Children's Hospital at Broward General Medical Center.

He attended Universidad de Monterrey Medical School in Mexico, performed his pediatric residency at Children's Hospital of Austin in Texas and served as a post-doctoral fellow in neonatal perinatal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Read more...

Dr. Rudolph Roskos

Rudolph Roskos, MD
Medical Director of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Medical Director of Pediatric Sedation

Dr. Roskos is medical director of pediatric hematology/ oncology and medical director of pediatric sedation at Chris Evert Children's Hospital at Broward General Medical Center.

He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Wisconsin. He began his clinical training at LaCrosse Lutheran Hospital and completed a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine. Read more...