Heart disease is not a major cause of death among children and teenagers, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it is the largest cause of death among adults in the United States. In fact, someone in America dies every 37 seconds from some form of cardiovascular disease.
Certain factors that play an important role in a person’s chances of developing heart disease. Some of these life-style risk factors can be changed, treated, or modified, and some, such as congenital heart disease cannot.
Zachary Stone M.D, a primary care physician at the University of Alabama, agrees that it’s possible to build a future free from cardiovascular disease by starting heart-healthy habits at a young age. Most of the risk factors that affect children can be controlled early in life.
“The process of atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries and is known to cause heart attacks, strokes and sudden death, has been shown to begin in early childhood,” says Stone. “It’s important to concentrate on healthy lifestyles in children to prevent adult cardiovascular disease.”
The three main areas to watch are diet, activity levels and smoke exposure.
Diet: Good nutrition can help to decrease cardiovascular disease. It can help prevent hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. 1 out of every 3 American adults is obese and obesity is linked to more than 110,000 deaths in the United States each year. Childhood obesity in the United States is also on the rise. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, between 16% and 33% of children and teenagers are obese. Because obese children are more likely to be obese adults, preventing or treating obesity in childhood may reduce the risk of adult obesity. A young person’s diet should be low in saturated fats and primarily consist of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Activity: One easy way to increase physical activity in children is to limit their sedentary activities. Parents should limit television and multimedia to 1-2 hours per day and ensure that their kids participate in at least one hour of moderate activity daily.
Smoke exposure: Exposure to smoke is dangerous to the health of a child for many reasons, including that it can increase the risk of developing heart disease as an adult. According to the CDC, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students smoke cigarettes, and nearly 4,000 kids under age 18 try their first cigarette every day. More than 90,000 people die each year from heart diseases caused by smoking. Among young people who would otherwise have a very low risk of heart disease, cigarette smoking may cause as many as 75% of the cases of heart disease. And, the longer a person smokes, the higher the risk of heart disease. Parents should talk openly to their kids about both the dangers and bad effects of smoking, such as yellow teeth, bad breath, smelly clothes, shortness of breath and lung damage. Parents also need to act as a role model for their children, by not smoking or allowing others around them to smoke, thereby reducing their exposure to second-hand smoke.
Keeping kids heart healthy is an investment in their future and yours, and may be the best gift you can ever give.