Many children don’t meet the basic standards of good heart health, a major health organisation claims
While babies are generally born with healthy hearts, many children are not meeting the American Heart Association’s (AHA) definition of ideal childhood cardiovascular health.
The standards include having a healthy weight in relation to height or Body Mass Index, getting enough physical activity, not smoking, following a healthy diet and maintaining healthy cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Study lead author Dr Julia Steinberger, who is director of paediatric cardiology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said the primary reason children don’t have good heart health is due to poor diet and lack of physical activity.
“Children are eating high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and not eating enough healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, fish and other foods strongly associated with good heart health and a healthy body weight,” she said.
Nearly all children in the study – about 91 per cent – scored poorly on diet measures. In fact, the study found that children two to 19 years olds get the bulk of their daily calories from simple carbohydrates such as sugary desserts and beverages.
Similarly, the level of physical activity was not enough to protect their hearts. Among children ages six to 11 years old, half of the boys and just over a third of the girls were active for the recommended 60 minutes or more per day.
As children reached 16 to 19 years of age, the percentage meeting the recommended amount of physical activity decreased even further, to 10 per cent in boys and 5 per cent in girls. The healthiest metric for children was blood pressure, with nearly all children in the ideal group.
Accordingly, Dr Steinberger said it is imperative that parents consider changes to their children’s lifestyle as a preventative measure.
“Instead of taking a wait-and-see approach by treating disease later in adulthood, we should help children maintain the standards of ideal cardiovascular health that most children are born with,” she said. “Engaging in these ideal health behaviours early in life can have a tremendous benefit on maintaining ideal health throughout the lifespan.”
The report was published in journal Circulation.
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