Prevention Begins in Childhood

Can adult heart disease be predicted in children? According to reports published by the American Heart Association, children with high levels of the following four markers are most at risk for heart disease later in life:

1. Total cholesterol

2. Levels of blood fats called triglycerides

3. A measure of body size called body mass index (BMI)

4. Systolic blood pressure

The good news is that addressing the following health and lifestyle issues in childhood can help improve a child’s prospect for long-term cardiovascular health.

By Jenni Frankenberg Veal

Obesity: Epidemic levels of childhood obesity have created an increased interest in childhood heart health. Today, nearly one in five children between the ages of 2 and 19 years is considered obese. The health consequences of obesity include increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, breathing problems and trouble sleeping. Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults unless they adopt and maintain healthier patterns of eating and exercise.

Inactivity: Inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are active. It is recommended that children 5 years and older get at least 30 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise each day. If your child is physically inactive, it is important to limit the amount of time he or she spends watching TV, playing video games and using the computer and focus him or her on active play activities, such as outdoor play and sports.

Poor Diet: Diets that are high in saturated fats and trans fats can raise “bad cholesterol” (LDL) levels, thereby increasing risk factors for heart disease. Diets high in salt, which can cause high blood pressure, and sugar, which can cause weight gain, can also increase a child’s risk of heart disease.

Researchers recommend routine heart-risk evaluations for children, which should include body mass index measurements, cholesterol and blood pressure checks, and questions about diet, exercise and exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke

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