Heart-Healthy Living: Family Guide to Your Child's Heart Care

All of us should try to form healthy habits.

The Heart Institute at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh can help.

We offer:

  • Ways to help your child adopt healthy habits.
  • Cooking tips and food advice for avoiding high-cholesterol meals.

Helping Your Child With Heart-Healthy Habits

When a child has a heart problem, a healthy lifestyle is even more vital. And forming healthy habits can help the whole family.

Staying active and getting in routine workouts:

  • Improve cardiovascular fitness.
  • Help stay at an ideal weight.
  • Lower cholesterol.

Avoiding bad habits

Research shows that drinking alcohol, smoking, and using street drugs are harmful for everyone.

They cause side effects such as:

  • Increased blood pressure.
  • A faster heart rate.
  • Blood infections.
  • Brain damage.

With a heart problem, using these substances puts you at a higher risk for these side effects.

Healthy Habits: Go, Yield, Stop

Reminders about healthy habits can work like a traffic light.


  • Regular exercise, as prescribed by a heart doctor, at least three times a week.
  • A well-balanced, low-fat diet to help stay at an ideal weight.


  • After 21 years of age, careful use of alcohol. Drinking may be habit-forming. Try swapping booze with other favorite drinks.
  • Any unprescribed drugs.


  • No smoking.
  • No street drugs.

Heart-Healthy Diet Tips

Most children with heart disease don't need a special diet.

But some do need to follow some guidelines, such as:

  • Infants with severe heart problems. They have trouble gaining enough weight for surgery and may need a high-calorie formula.
  • Older children with severe heart problems. They may need to limit the amount of salt they eat or the liquid they drink.

Today, there's a need for all Americans to improve their diets.

Children and teens may be obese or have high cholesterol.

Obesity complicates their heart disease and may cause other health problems. High cholesterol may put them at risk of coronary artery diseases in later life.

If your child needs to follow a special diet, there are people who can help. Doctors, nurses, and dietitians can offer guidelines or help with meal planning.

Healthy cooking tips to avoid high cholesterol

Below are some ways to help avoid high cholesterol:

  • Use lean to medium fatty meats and poultry as much as you can. Trim off excess fat and skin before cooking.
  • Serve fish often.
  • Fry foods using corn, safflower, olive, or canola oils.
  • Limit the number of whole eggs you eat each week. Eat egg substitutes or egg whites more often.
  • Serve 1 percent or skim milk to children older than 2.
  • Choose “low fat" or “skim processed" cheeses when you can find them. Avoid high-fat cheeses such as Colby and processed American cheeses.

If you want more ways to reduce or limit cholesterol intake, contact a registered dietitian at UPMC Children's Hospital.