The Bogalusa Heart Study reported obese children as young as five show artery changes seen in early heart disease. Additional studies show obese children, in particular, have the same metabolic disorders as adults leading to early heart disease.
Many factors contribute to cardiovascular disease → the leading cause of death in adults. A lifetime of excessive eating and not enough exercise combined with smoking are three leading causes of early heart attack and death. Many people with arteries nearly closed have no symptoms. Some have multiple heart arteries with blockages above 90% and don’t know it. A key to living longer is recognizing risk factors and lowering your risks by making healthy choices and seeing a physician for a physical and laboratory studies.
Inherited Risk with High Cholesterol Genes
Some families have faulty cholesterol genes placing them at risk for early heart disease. High cholesterol levels increase the risk of early death. In my family, males had heart attacks in their 30’s and 40’s and died very young, but today, that statistic can be changed. Today, children who carry the inherited trait for high cholesterol can be diagnosed early and treated. When treated, they are living longer than their parents did.
A new National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommendation is to test the cholesterol level (called a lipid panel) in children between the ages of 9 to 11. Previously, lipid testing beginning at age 20 was recommended.
Note: There are experts who disagree with this recommendation but if your child has familial and other risks, discuss cholesterol with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor.
Parents don’t often think about their child’s cholesterol levels but heart disease can develop in childhood. The test involves taking a blood sample to analyze for different kinds of fats (lipids) in the blood. Cholesterol is a lipid or fat. High levels of cholesterol are known to contribute not only to heart disease, but also strokes.
Over time as cholesterol accumulates within the wall of heart arteries, blockages starve the heart muscle of oxygen and nutrients. For most people, the process occurs over a lifetime of eating the wrong food and too much of it, with inadequate exercise. But in families with faulty cholesterol genes, the problem becomes evident at a young age and shortens life.
Drugs called statins may be prescribed in adults and in some high risk children and teens to lower cholesterol levels and prolong lives. The primary treatment in all ages is proper eating and an active lifestyle. Taking statins helps, but a low fat nutritious diet with predominant fresh fruits and vegetables is most important.
A study published this year from the University of Eastern Finland showed obese children as young as six had already developed high blood pressure, high glucose and high insulin levels showing insulin resistance like adult Type 2 diabetics. In addition, the children had high triglycerides (a fat contributing to heart disease) and low HDL-cholesterol, the good cholesterol – the one you want high. They found blood pressure, triglyceride and insulin level elevations contributed to stiffening even in young arteries. This leads to cardiovascular disease.
High blood pressure is a silent disease in both adults and children. Treatment decreases risk for the development of cardiovascular disease. Pediatricians now recommend measuring blood pressures in children at every visit beginning at age three. High blood pressure in children is more common in obese children and must be a part of the child’s health evaluation.
Type 2 diabetes accelerates cardiovascular disease. It was formerly a disease of older adults. Now Type 2 diabetes is common in overweight teens.
Researchers in a Washington University study found a link between teen depression and obesity. With inactivity and smoking, the study also found teens are twice as likely to die by age 55 than non-smokers. Recognizing and treating depression, stopping smoking, avoiding second hand smoke, normalizing weight and increasing exercise can lower heart disease risk for at risk children and teens.
Early diagnosis with physician monitoring and appropriate interventions along with healthy food choices beginning in childhood and an active lifestyle are the keys to better health and a longer life.