Heart Health Of Children In The United States Is Not What It Should Be

The heart health of American children is simply unacceptable according to a new statement released by the American heart Association. An overwhelming majority of kids in the United States have a poor diet and low physical activity says the new heart health study.

The study on the heart health of children was published in Circulation, featuring the lead author, Doctor Julia Steinberger of the American Health Association. In the article, the authors of the release said that this latest study on heart health is a “companion piece” to a heart health report released in 2010. According to the AHA, American kids often are lacking in a heart healthy diet in addition to missing out on physical activity that the association deems necessary for optimal cardiovascular health. In fact, according to this latest report, an overwhelming amount of American children aren’t eating the proper diets, and only between a third and a half of them are getting enough physical activity.

cardiovascular disease
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So what is the right diet and how much physical activity is enough to get kids on the right track to heart health? According to the American Heart Association, the ideal things they’re looking for in our youth is the lack of ever having tried or smoked an entire cigarette, possessing a body mass index of less than the 85th percentile, getting at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, maintaining a healthy diet score on “four to five components,” having a total cholesterol of less than 170 mg/dL and a blood pressure under the 90th percentile, and possessing a fasting blood glucose of less than 100 mg/dL.

Steinberger released a statement indicating how vitally important it is for our nation’s young people to get interested in heart health early in life.

“Engaging in these ideal health behaviors early in life can have a tremendous benefit on maintaining ideal health throughout the lifespan. 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.”

Starting in 2007, warning signs were sent out by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicating that American kids weren’t coming close to meeting the guidelines of heart health released by the American Heart Association. Not even one percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 had a suitable diet score in four out of five categories necessary for a healthy heart. When it came to the amount of physical activity necessary for heart healthy, just under half of boys and 34.7 percent of girls between the ages of 6 and 11 reached the goal of moderate to vigorous physical activity for 60 minutes each day. Between the ages of 12 and 19 the numbers dropped even lower, with less than one in ten boys and only about 4 percent of girls getting the recommended 60 minutes per day to achieve heart health.

cardiovascular disease
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When the other statistics were examined in the 2007 study, the results on heart health in American children were just as discouraging. Only 50 to 60 percent of adolescents had an ideal BMI, whereas between 19 and 27 percent had what was rated as an extremely “poor” BMI greater than the 95th percentile. What might be more troubling when it comes to the heart health of American kids is that almost a third of them admitted to smoking a cigarette in the previous month.

The other barometers or poor heart health put forth by the American Heart Association fared no better. More than 25 percent of kids between 6 and 11 years-old were classified as “intermediate status” when it came to their total cholesterol numbers, and an addition 10 percent were classified as having “poor status.”

It’s difficult for anyone to deny that there is a significant heart health crisis for American children, but the question becomes, what can we do about it? One of the authors of the statement released by the American Heart Association, Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, thinks that heart health needs to be spearheaded by pediatricians.

“Pediatricians are our most important partners going forward.They have the power, along with the schools and public policy, to really help reverse this epidemic. If we can improve eating patterns and increase physical activity among children, we can dramatically alter their life course.”

Of course, the heart health of America’s youth isn’t only up to doctors. Education on the part of parents is necessary as they are the first line of defense in what and how much they eat, as well as their physical activity. Parents lead by example, and, believe it or not, kids model themselves on the things their parents do. “Do what I say, not what I do,” is no longer a viable excuse. Parents that eat correctly and exercise with their kids through joint physical activity are much more likely to have heart healthy kids. Additionally, schools are an ideal place to get the message across to kids about the importance of heart health and what that entails.

[Feature Photo by China Photos/Getty Images]