Good Hearts Start Young: Boosting Kids’ Cardiovascular Health
Get them moving. Children should be physically active at least 60 minutes a day, the AHA recommends, but among kids 6 to 11, only half of the boys and a third of the girls meet that guideline; by ages 16 to 19, merely one in 10 boys and one in 20 girls do. A review of 50 fitness studies in 28 countries involving 25 million children concluded that American kids today are about a minute and a half slower running a mile than their peers 30 years ago.
Feed them well. About 91 percent of U.S. children have what is classified as a “poor” diet that’s heavy in simple carbs like desserts and sugary drinks, the AHA reported. It recommends feeding kids a diet heavy in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains and low in sodium and sugary foods and drinks. A 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of 2,142 children found that nine of 10 kids exceeded recommended sodium levels. A Cleveland Clinic study found that obese children eating a low-fat, plant-based vegan diet for four weeks began lowering their risk of heart disease by improving their weight, blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity.
Don’t smoke or vape. The risk of a child developing carotid plaque in adulthood was four times higher if one or both parents smoked without taking care to limit the child’s exposure; when they did take care, the risk was still almost two times higher, according to an Australian study in the journal Circulation. Discouraging a teen from vaping is also critical to future health: New research from the University of Kansas School of Medicine shows that adults that vape are significantly more likely to have a heart attack, coronary artery disease and depression compared with those that don’t vape or use any tobacco products.
Restrict screen time. Australian 6-year-olds that spent the most time in front of TVs, computers and video games had narrower arteries in the back of their eyes—a marker of future cardiovascular risk—reported a study in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular. A study from Canada’s McMaster University found that kids with video game addictions sleep less, which in turn elevates blood pressure, lowers helpful HDL cholesterol and raises triglycerides.
Ronica A. O’Hara is a Denver-based health writer. Connect at [email protected]