a Healthy Heart, Get an Early Start
Here's a little
quiz for anyone with a heart:
At what age
can a child first show signs of heart disease?
If you said
"d," raise a glass of low-fat milk and go to the head
of the class; heart disease can start at a surprisingly young age.
look so healthy that you don't really think about whether they have
risk factors for cardiovascular disease later in life," says
Dr. Christine L. Williams, director of the Children's Cardiovascular
Health Center at Columbia University in New York City.
a process that begins very early in childhood. You can begin to
see fatty streaks in the aorta as early as 3 years of age,"
she says. "The battle's often lost in the first few years,
and it can be very hard to undo the damage."
disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States, causing about
525,000 deaths a year.
other pediatric heart specialists think they can cut that number
by stressing healthy lifestyles early in childhood.
So, the American
Heart Association recently published new guidelines for doctors
that emphasize education and information on healthy heart habits
for young patients and their families.
Among the recommendations:
- Get a family
history of heart disease and stroke when the child is still a
- Between the
ages of 2 and 6, begin cholesterol screening for children whose
parents have high cholesterol.
- Start checking
the child's blood pressure at age 3.
active physical play and discourage sedentary behavior.
it's nice to know which children have a tendency to be on the high-risk
side," says Williams, who chaired the committee that developed
the guidelines. "With a lot of them, all you might have to
do is switch them to low-fat dairy products."
Dr. Hugh Allen,
physician-in-chief at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio, says
the heart association hopes to duplicate the success of the anti-smoking
campaign that began in the 1960s and cut the rate of smoking in
half over the next 30 years.
much, I would like to see the same kind of response," he says.
"You might think of this as an immunization. If we know there
are environmental factors associated with the disease, and we can
develop lifestyle changes that will affect it later in life, that
is certainly an effective approach."
those lifestyle changes must begin at home and in school, both doctors
kid usually sits at the table with an obese family," Allen
"The whole family's got to get involved. This is really a whole-family
play their part, Allen says, by offering healthy meals in the cafeteria
and cutting out the high-fat junk food that many now make available.
And regular physical education, which has fallen victim to cutbacks
over the past 20 years, needs to make a comeback.
thing is, I saw a couple of obese kids this morning, and they only
have gym once a week at school," Williams says.
also need to make education a regular part of their routine -- something
Allen says many are already doing.
a lot of family practitioners try to work preventative information
into their office material," he says. "Some do a better
job than others, but everybody does have some opportunity. We can
whittle away at it every day."
If Allen had
his way, he says, there would be a tax of at least $5 on every
pack of cigarettes. Schools would serve only healthy food.
would encourage physical activity as a reward, not as a duty,"
he says. "Let's not use food as a reward, let's use physical
activity as a reward: 'Good job on your homework -- now you can
go out and play.'"
Read the newly
guidelines for heart-healthy children from the American Heart
Association. Are you at risk of a heart attack? Take this
simple quiz to find out.
Reference Source 101