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Unhealthy childhood behaviours can deteriorate heart health

Posted:  Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Everyone is born with optimal heart health but factors such as diet and physical activity determine the turnout in adulthood. American researchers have found that unhealthy childhood behaviours could result in worsening of the heart health determinants such as body mass index (BMI), blood cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.

Published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, the study examined 4 components, namely BMI, healthy diet, total cholesterol and blood pressure in 8,961 children aged 2-11 years who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Surveys (NHANES) in 2003-10. The researchers defined health diet on the basis of 5 indicators such as low intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium, and high intakes of whole grains, fish, and fruits and vegetables.

The observations of the study were as follows:

• Out of the 4 heart health component studied in children, all the children showed only one favourable component of heart health: blood pressure. However, none of the children recorded all 4.

• About 30% of children were obese and overweight. The prevalence of obesity was high in the older children (6-11 years) compared to the younger ones (2-5 years).

• About 40% of children had intermediate or poor total cholesterol levels.

• A whopping 90% of the children consumed more sodium than the American Heart Association recommendation of below 1500 mg/day.

• More than 50% of the children consumed more than the recommended calories from sugar sweetened beverages.

• A healthy diet was the least prevalent component with less than 1% children reporting four or five of the five indicators of a healthy diet. Less than 10% of the children consumed the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables of > 4.5 cups or more per day. They also recorded lower consumption of fish than recommended (> two 3.5 oz. servings a week) and whole grains (> three 1 oz. equivalent servings a day).

The American Heart Association’s 2020 impact goals for heart health target blood pressure, total cholesterol, BMI, blood glucose, healthy diet, physical activity and smoking. This study provides a comprehensive view of how children rate on these goals that are typically defined for adults.

“We really need better surveillance data, especially in children. Information on physical activity, blood glucose and smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke is not available for younger children. Without knowing how much physical activity a child is doing, and therefore how many calories are needed, we can't scale the diet metrics to a child's needs,” said the researchers. With supporting data for children, early measures to preserve cardiovascular health in childhood can be achieved.

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