Heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is a general term for plaque build-up in the heart’s arteries. Currently, the story about heart disease is a good news/bad news situation.
Good news: Death from heart disease has declined over the past few decades.
Bad news: Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women across most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.
Another piece of good news: heart disease is preventable (even when you have a family history). And it’s never too early to start learning healthy habits.
I talked to Independence Medical Director Dr. Stephen Higgins to get his take on heart health for young people. He explained how early prevention can help kids avoid health issues down the road.
How do we know that heart disease begins early?
In 1999, a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association reported teenagers as young as 15 with plaque build-up in the arteries of their heart. These findings show that the seeds of coronary artery disease may begin at a young age. It makes sense to start practicing healthy heart habits early in childhood.
How can parents help their kids have good heart health?
Many well-known — and preventable — risk factors for heart disease begin in childhood: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use, and poor diet. Some of these issues are at least in part inherited. But, others are clearly lifestyle choices. Be sure to talk to your child’s doctor about things like activity level, diet, and screening for blood pressure and cholesterol.
How important is nutrition for heart health in children?
Good childhood nutrition is critical for a healthy heart. A heart-healthy diet for a child is the same for an adult. It would include avoiding saturated fats, reducing sugary foods and drinks, and getting fiber from whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. If you could use guidance on your family’s diet, remember that IBX covers six free annual visits with a registered dietitian for most IBX members.
How much activity should children and adolescents get?
Children younger than six years old should just play. Kids who are six and older should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. And here is the great part that makes it manageable: it doesn’t have to be all at once. For example, your child’s activity for the day might look something like this:
- 30 minutes of playing freeze tag at recess
- 10 minutes of brisk walking (maybe on the way home from school)
- 20 minutes of jumping rope with a friend
It adds up quick! No matter what their age, kids should be able to enjoy physical activity, rather than it being thought of as “working out” or “exercising.” They can go to karate class, play basketball, or spend time on the playground.
If children aren’t getting enough activity, you can help them incorporate more physical activity into their day. Set an example by being more active yourself, and then you can invite them to join you.
Vaping and heart disease — could this new trend for young people harm their hearts?
Tobacco use is a major health risk, and we should make every effort to educate children about how all tobacco products are harmful to their health. This includes vaping, a relatively new and troubling trend among teenagers. E-cigarettes used for vaping have nicotine. In fact, a recent CDC study found that 99 percent of e-cigarettes contained nicotine, even some that were labeled as nicotine-free. Nicotine, whether vaped or smoked, is extremely addictive and is associated with decreased heart health.
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.