Heart Disease Prevention Begins in Childhood
As the number of adults afflicted with heart disease continues to grow in the United States, parents may wonder if it is ever too early to begin thinking about prevention. Previous studies have shown that hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) can develop at a very young age; even in infants less than one year old.1 According to a new study in Lancet,2 severely obese children are at risk of developing abnormalities in the carotid arteries that are a potential harbinger of heart and blood vessel disease later in life.
The study examined 48 severely obese and 27 normal weight children between the ages of 4 and 17 years. Two measurements were made that relate to the health of the carotid arteries: the stiffness of the arterial wall and the ability of the vessel wall to dilate (known as endothelial function). Abnormal results are considered possible early signs of atherosclerosis. Other values such as total cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, blood sugar, and blood pressure were also investigated. The results of the study revealed that the arteries of the severely obese children were stiffer than those of normal weight children; in addition, the obese children showed evidence of impaired endothelial function. Obese children also had significantly higher total cholesterol and triglycerides, lower HDL cholesterol, and more insulin resistance relative to nonobese children; each of these differences is associated with increased risk for the development of heart disease.
In the United States, heart and blood vessel disease account for more deaths than all other diseases combined. Heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure are often the result of poor lifestyle habits such as smoking, eating a high-fat diet, or being overweight. This report is one of many that indicate adult diseases such as these may be prevented with appropriate interventions in childhood. As the incidence of obesity continues to increase in children, it is likely that more cases of heart disease will be reported in the coming years.
Managing a child’s weight can be challenging and frustrating for parents. In the age of computers and video games, physical exercise has taken a back seat to the latest software. It is important for children to have regular exercise and proper nutrition in order to maintain control over their weight. Parents of children with weight problems should consult a physician or nutritionist for additional guidance.
1. Strong JP, Malcom GT, Newman WP 3rd, Oalmann MC. Early lesions of atherosclerosis in childhood and youth: natural history and risk factors. J Am Coll Nutr 1992;11:51S–4S.
2. Tounian P, Aggoun Y, Dubern B, et al. Presence of increased stiffness of the common carotid artery and endothelial dysfunction in severely obese children: a prospective study. Lancet 2001;358:1400–4.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of Garlic and Cholesterol: Everything You Need to Know (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice in Westport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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