Nov. 29, 2010 -- Just in time for the holidays, here's a new reason to get children to eat their veggies.
Children who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables have healthier, less stiff arteries as young adults compared to children who don't load up on fruit and veggies, according to a new study.
Researchers say arterial stiffness is tied to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, which is a key factor in heart disease. When arteries become stiff, the heart has to work harder to pump blood effectively.
In the study, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, Finnish researchers compared childhood and adult lifestyle factors, including fruit and vegetable intake, alcohol use, and smoking with arterial stiffness in 1,622 Finns who were followed for 27 years from a baseline age of between 3 and 18.
Arterial stiffness was measured using pulse wave velocity.
“When the heart beats, the blood’s ejection causes a pulse wave, which travels along the wall of the arterial tree,” researcher Mika Kahonen, MD, PhD, professor and chief physician for the department of clinical physiology at Tampere University Hospital in Tampere, Finland, says in a news release. “The velocity of this pulse wave is dependent on the stiffness of the arterial wall; the stiffer the wall, the higher velocity. It is well known that the arterial stiffening process has a major role in the development of cardiovascular diseases."
The results showed that children who ate fewer vegetables tended to have a higher pulse wave velocity as adults, even after adjusting for other potential risk factors, such as cholesterol levels.
“These findings suggest that a lifetime pattern of low consumption of fruits and vegetables is related to arterial stiffness in young adulthood,” Kahonen says. “Parents and pediatricians have yet another reason to encourage children to consume high amounts of fruits and vegetables.”
How to Get Kids to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
If new scientific evidence about hardened arteries is a hard sell for your kids, the American Heart Association recommends the following tips to get children to eat more fruits and vegetables:
- Make fruit and vegetable shopping fun. Involve children in shopping and selecting ripe fruits and vegetables at your local green market or grocery store. Explain which fruits and vegetables are available each season and from which climates.
- Involve kids in meal preparation. Invite children to help you prepare a healthy dish. Younger kids can measure, crumble, hold, and hand some of the ingredients to you while older kids can help set the table. Offer lots of praise for what they've done.
- Be a role model. If your child sees you eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables, they'll be more likely to follow suit.
- Create fun snacks. Make healthy snacks a part of their routine. Kids love foods they can eat with their fingers; healthy options include cut-up fruit or vegetables arranged on a pretty plate with a small portion of low-fat salad dressing, hummus, or yogurt.
- Give kids healthy choices, within limits. Too many choices can overwhelm young children. Rather than asking, "What would you like for dinner?" Offer them healthy choices like strawberries or banana on their cereal or carrots or broccoli with dinner.
- Eat together as a family. Family dining time offers adults a chance to model healthy behaviors and attitudes about food.
- Expect resistance. Kids will be exposed to negative influences about food. Without making disparaging remarks about other families' habits, let your kids know that fruits and vegetables come first in your family.
- Grow it. Create a kitchen window garden and let your child plant tomatoes and herbs in window boxes. Or if you have space for a garden, help them cultivate their own vegetable patch with plants that grow quickly, like beans, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, and radishes.
- Resort to covert operations when necessary. If all else fails, sneak pureed or grated vegetables into pastas, pizza sauces, and casseroles.
- Be patient. Changes in food preferences take time to happen. Many kids need to see and taste a new food a dozen times before they know whether they truly like it. Try putting a small amount of the new food on their plate every day for two weeks but don't make a big deal about it.