Protecting Children's Cardiovascular Health


children's cardiovascular health

We’re born with reasonably good levels of heart health, and as we grow, our lifestyle choices, dietary decisions and other habits affect our hearts increasingly over time. Although many people associate heart concerns with the elderly population, research shows that the slippery slope into chronic cardio issues can actually start at a very young age.

Studies show that children throughout the world are approximately 15% less fit than their parents were at the same age, with cardiovascular endurance declining by around 6% per decade. Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine conducted a study that examined four indications of heart health in children: BMI, diet, blood pressure, and total cholesterol. The study found that out of the sample of 8,961 children between the ages of 2 and 11, not a single child had ideal levels for all aspects of heart health.

If children are unfit in their youth, they’re likely to develop worsening conditions later in life. Since heart disease remains to be the number one killer of Americans today, it’s important to examine the reasons behind children’s declining cardiovascular health and combat this trend by teaching healthy habits.

Lack of Physical Education

In the recent years, schools have been cutting down on physical education classes and recess in an attempt to open up extra time for academic study. This approach could be detrimental not only to the physical, mental, and cognitive development of children; it could be actively putting them at a higher risk for blood pressure problems, high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease.

Reduced physical activity in school is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease and chronic diseases like diabetes. Just like for adults, increased levels of physical activity are often associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and increased life expectancy — meaning that the more we cut down on physical education and recess, the more damage we could be doing to our children.

Lack of access to recess and physical education could also correlate with fewer chances to develop crucial social skills at a young age, which may lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety in students.

Poor Dietary Habits

Giving children unlimited access to consumption of sweets and unhealthy foods could lead to literal heartache later in life. In a study regarding sugar consumption, the CDC found that the average teenager consumed around 500 calories worth of processed sugar every day. Teenagers whose calorie intake was made up of more than 30% sugar had higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in their system.

In the past thirty years, childhood obesity levels have doubled, leading to increases in instances of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Although it might not be possible to constantly watch over what children are eating, parents and schools can offer more nutritious choices and keep junk food out of easy reach.

Sitting Still for Too Long

Research suggests that too much “static sitting” could be bad for your health, regardless of the amount of exercise you might get at other times. Studies have linked excessive sitting — such as the time students spend sitting still in class — to issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and more.

One of the largest studies conducted to date involved a sample group of almost 800,000 people, and found that when compared to people who sat less often, people who stayed seated for most of the day had a 147% increase in cardiovascular events and a 90% increase of death caused by heart problems. Promoting positive behaviors at school, like encouraging students to get up and move around every hour, can help keep their hearts healthy and instill long-lasting good habits.

Promoting Good Heart Health

While a lot of articles give advice for adults to improve heart health and lower their cholesterol, many ignore the fact that bad habits often start in childhood, creating ill effects that persist throughout the remainder of a person’s life. The American Heart Association encourages adults  to model healthy behaviors for children as early as possible. The recent data revealed about child heart health is a worrying concept, but acts as a reminder that cardiovascular fitness is a lifelong process, not something that should only be considered in adulthood.

Encourage kids to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day — using as many muscle groups as possible — through activities like swimming, running, or cycling. If we fail to inspire children to develop fitness habits through dietary awareness and physical education, we may be robbing them of the resources they need for long-term cardiovascular health.