By Caitlin Schille
Historically, cardiovascular problems were seen as an adult’s problem- the classic heart attack stereotype is a mid-to-older-aged businessman. However, new research is indicating that children as young as eight years old already have damage to their hearts.
What is fueling this childhood heart damage? The short answer is widespread obesity in children. Poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, the main contributors to obesity, are causes of several conditions related to heart health, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure. High cholesterol and high blood pressure are also problems that used to be seen almost exclusively in adults but are now being seen in children as well, due to a high rate of obesity.
Childhood heart damage is alarming. Researchers in Pennsylvannia performed imaging scans on children’s hearts and found that many had thickened heart muscle. This is a sign of excessive strain on the heart, and it can cause stroke, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and even sudden death. The thickened heart muscle, a component of heart disease, was found much more prevalently in obese children. Researchers fear that damage to the heart at such a young age could be permanent, although they hope that it can be reversible, to an extent.
Other research has pointed to similar warnings. According to Dr. Allen Rader with Idaho Weight Loss, studies at the University of Cincinnati demonstrate thickening of arteries in the neck of overweight and obese teenagers. Researchers used a non-invasive test called a carotid artery ultrasound to shows show that study subjects were at increased risk of heart attacks, even in the teenage years.
What is the take-away for parents? Help your children live a healthy lifestyle! As seen by this study of heart disease in children, obesity has very serious consequences. Here are some tips to help protect your child’s health:
A Parent’s Guide to Better Family Heart Health
• Set a good example of a healthy diet, proper portion sizes, and regular exercise. Remember that children follow your example much more readily than they follow your words- the most effective way to help your child practice healthy habits is for you to do them first!
• Make fitness a fun, family affair. Exercise doesn’t have to be staring at the wall while you sweat on a treadmill. Get active as a family- play tag, walk your kids to school, play soccer, ride bikes, walk to the park, or jump on the trampoline!
• Get creative with fruits and vegetables. This doesn’t mean you have to live off of raw broccoli. Try putting some spinach into a blueberry smoothie, adding lettuce to your kid’s ham and cheese sandwich, or slipping some chopped red bell pepper into your kid’s quesadilla. Every little bit counts, and it’s okay to start small if you’re the parent of a picky eater.
• Phase out or reduce fast food, heavily processed food, and junk food. Start paying more attention to food labels; be wary of foods with lots of sugar (especially added sugar) and sodium (salt). If much of your child’s current diet is fast food, processed food, or junk food, start small! Begin by replacing a few foods with healthier options to help seamlessly transition into a healthier diet. For instance, replace white bread and white pasta with whole grain bread and whole grain pasta. Focus your family’s diet on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein such as chicken.
Sources: American Heart Association, heart.org