Preventing cardiovascular disease in children 

Research has clearly shown that the eating and drinking habits you get into as a child can continue into adulthood.

So, while bad eating habits during childhood may not pose an immediate health risk, they could lead to serious health problems later in life.

Four important things to consider are the amount of:

  • fat in your child's diet
  • salt in your child's diet 
  • sugar in your child's diet
  • exercise your child does 

Salt

Eating high levels of salt in childhood has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressureheart disease and stroke in adulthood.

The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on their age:

  • 1 to 3 years – 2g of salt a day (0.8g sodium)
  • 4 to 6 years – 3g of salt a day (1.2g sodium)
  • 7 to 10 years – 5g of salt a day (2g sodium)
  • 11 years and over – 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium)

It's easy to underestimate how much salt is contained in food. For example, a meal consisting of small fries, a hamburger and a coke contains 1.8g of salt, which is more than half the recommended daily limit for a five-year-old.

Pre-packaged and ready-to-eat foods, particularly those not specifically designed for children, often contain high levels of salt. For example, a 200g tin of tomato soup contains 1.4g of salt.

You should always check the label of any foods you give your children so you can keep an eye on their daily salt consumption.

Read more about salt: the facts.

Fats and sugar

You should also limit the amount of saturated fat and sugar your child eats.

Too much saturated fat and sugar in your child's diet can lead to high cholesteroldiabetes and high blood pressure in later life.

They can also increase your child's risk of becoming overweight or obese. A diet high in sugar can also cause tooth decay.

Foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar include:

  • chocolate
  • sweets
  • fast food, such as fries, burgers and chicken nuggets
  • fizzy drinks
  • ice cream
  • biscuits
  • crisps
  • processed foods, such as microwave meals, hot dogs and breakfast cereals that contain added sugar

Read more about fat: the facts and sugars.

Exercise

Many children are naturally active and full of energy. But children who spend a lot of time doing activities that don't involve much physical activity, such as watching television and playing computer games, don't get the exercise they need.

Children under five years who can walk on their own should be physically active every day for at least 180 minutes (3 hours). This should be spread throughout the day and can be indoors or outside. 

This can include light activity such as standing up, moving around, rolling and playing, as well as more energetic activity such as skipping, hopping, running and jumping.

For children and young people (aged 5 to 18 years), it's recommended they do at least 60 minutes (1 hour) of physical activity every day. This should include a mix of moderate-intensity activities, such as cycling, and vigorous-intensity activities, such as running.

Read more about the physical activity guidelines for children under five years of age and the physical activity guidelines for children and young people.

This amount of exercise is enough to strengthen bones and muscles, and can help prevent children putting on weight.

There are many different ways for children to get the exercise they need. Simply walking or cycling to school is a good way to start. Team sports can also be great fun, and can improve co-ordination, balance and team skills.

Most community sports centres run team activities for children, such as football, basketball and volleyball. Ask your local sports centre for more information.

If your children don't like team sports, there are plenty of other fun activities for them to try, such as hiking, swimmingdance and kickboxing.

Child health 6-15

Information on child health, including healthy diet, fitness, sex education and exam stress

Page last reviewed: 15/09/2014

Next review due: 15/09/2016