Kids Heart Disease - Are You Making Sure That Your Kids Are Heart Healthy?

I may have over dramatized the headline a bit but kids heart disease is on the rise. Did you know that every 37 seconds an adult dies of some form of heart disease. (Did you know that usually the first sign of poor cardiovascular health is death?)The starting place for cardiovascular fitness is during our children's formative years. Luckily some of the elements or "factors" that play a role in determining a person's chances of developing heart disease can be modified or treated while our kids are still young. In other words, we can impress upon them the habits to maintain their cardiovascular fitness throughout their life.

The heart supplies the entire body with the blood/oxygen supply it needs to operate efficiently along with carrying waste products to the different organs for proper disposal. The problems occur when this system isn't working properly. Problems that can be encountered with poor cardiovascular fitness are:

  • Hardening of the Arteries (arteriosclerosis)
  • Fat or Plaque build up in the Arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Chest pains in the heart area (angina)
  • Blockage of flow or ruptured heart muscle (heart attack)
  • Clotting that can cause a blood vessel in the brain to burst (stroke)

What are some of the factors that lead to kids heart disease?

The risk factors that our children and teenagers can affect in order to lower their risk of developing heart disease include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Physical Inactivity
  • High Cholesterol Intake
  • Maintain healthy Blood Pressure

Smoking

Whether your teen is sneaking off for a smoke with their friends or your small child is exposed to second hand smoke while attending a party at a friends house, smoke will take its toll on their long term heart health.

Obesity

Since the 1970's, childhood obesity has risen from 5% to 18% of kids. That's almost a four fold increase in the number of kids who are overweight. Some of the factors that play into that are most likely the rise in popularity and accessibility of video games, snack foods, fast food chains and less parental supervision and role modeling.

This sedentary way of life and lack of healthy food consumption leads to an amount of excess body weight that lends itself to the development of Type 2 "Adult-Onset" diabetes which is affecting up to 3700 children a year in the US. An American Heart Association meeting back in November presented research on ultrasounds from kids aged 6-19. Their high cholesterol indicated a buildup of plaque equivalent to a 45 year old.

Obesity is a TOP contributor to kids heart disease.

Physical Inactivity

What more can I say on this topic. Don't just sit around and wait for something to inspire you to move. Just get up and move. The big chore will be getting your kids to put down their video game controllers. And regardless of what they may think, using just their thumbs and fingers is not exercise.

As parents we end up leaving our kids at home when we go to work. This is usually accompanied with instructions to not leave the house. Gone are the carefree days of our youth when we'd meet up with the other kids in the neighborhood to ride bikes or play a pick up game of basketball or football.

Kids are interacting with their peers more and more via the on-line world. Whether they team up on some war game to blast up people from other parts of the world or they spend their time texting back and forth with the majority of their friends. Our job is becoming more and more about pulling the plug.

High Cholesterol Intake

Not all kids when left to their own devices will opt for the lunch meat and raw veggies in the fridge. Let's face it, what do they know about kids heart disease? Often times they'll go for the chips, cookies or anything else that doesn't require a lot of effort to acquire. These foods are generally high in saturated fats and have the propensity to raise the amount of Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) or "bad cholesterol". It's the oxidation of this cholesterol that causes it to stick to the walls of the arteries.

The High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) are the "good cholesterol" and usually help to carry the LDL away from arteries and back to the liver for processing and removal from the body. It's believed that it may help to remove cholesterol from already formed plaques. When having your child's cholesterol checked (and yours) the doctor will look for a higher ratio of the HDL over the LDL.

As a side note, homocysteine levels are good indicator for your child's chances of getting any blockage of the arteries and therefore some form of heart disease. Homocysteine is like a burr that runs through the blood system. It scars the walls of the arteries which gives the oxidized LDL a great place to stick. Normal levels are roughly 15 micro mol/L.

Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure

Even with relatively poor eating and exercise habits most kids will likely check out ok on the blood pressure. If their blood pressure rises above 140/90mmHg then there is cause for concern.

Some ways to help maintain a good reading are -

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get regular exercise
  • Proper Diet/Nutrition
  • Low Salt Intake
  • Alcohol - Obviously this shouldn't necessarily be part of a child's regular daily meal plan

Stimulants associated to ADHD May Raise a Child's Heart Attack Risk

A study conducted by the FDA in June, 2009 showed that there is a correlation between sudden fatal heart attack and children who take stimulants for ADHD. The studies ultimate findings were "too weak" to orchestrate any change on safety recommendations for doctor's who prescribe these stimulants.

The FDA is stongly urging that physicians properly consider a child's family history of cardiovascular disease before writing any prescriptions. Kids heart disease is difficult to detect which is why the American Heart Assn. has proposed echo- or electro-cardiograms for children that are being prescribed ADHD medications.

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