Heart Disease Prevention Should Start During Childhood
April 29, 2013 by Robert Wascher
Filed under A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, Atherosclerosis, Atherosclerotic Plaques, Fitness, Fried Foods, HDL, Healthy Diet, Heart Disease Risk, Hypertension, Kids, LDL, Nutrition, Overweight, Peripheral Vascular Disease, Pre-teens, Red Meat, Saturated Fat, Toddlers, Tweens, Unsaturated Fat, Vigorous Exercise, Weekly Health Update, Weight Loss, Western Diet, adolescents, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease risk, coronary artery disease, diet, exercise, fat, fruits, health, heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure, lifestyle, meat, obesity, physical activity, prevention, risk, smoking, teenagers, tobacco, vegetables, whole grains
A new study shows a heart-healthy lifestyle during childhood may prevent heart disease later in life.
HEART DISEASE PREVENTION SHOULD START DURING CHILDHOOD
Heart disease remains the most common cause of death in the United States, and throughout much of the world.
While most of us associate the development of cardiovascular disease with the bad diet and lifestyle habits that we adopt during adulthood, there is plenty of evidence showing that the underlying cause of coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis (also known as “hardening of the arteries”) may actually begin during childhood. Now, a newly published prospective clinical research study of adolescents in Finland reveals that a heart-healthy lifestyle, if adopted during childhood, can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis much earlier in life than was previously thought possible. This study is published in the current issue of the journal Circulation.
Beginning in 1990, more than 1,000 infants were enrolled in this long-term prospective clinical study. These young research volunteers, who were 7 months of age when they entered into this research study, were randomly divided into two groups. The “intervention” group’s parents were intensively educated about heart-healthy diet and lifestyle factors, while the parents of the control group children received only the standard health information typically provided by pediatricians. These two groups of children were then closely followed through childhood, and into adolescence. A total of 7 cardiovascular health lifestyle factors were monitored throughout this research study. At ages 15, 17 and 19, the teenagers participating in this public health study underwent ultrasound measurements of the aorta (the largest artery in the body) to assess for thickening of the wall of this artery, which is a sign of early atherosclerosis. Ultrasound was also used to assess the elasticity of the aorta, which is reduced even at the earliest stages of atherosclerosis.
The lifestyle factors that were closely monitored during this prospective study included food choices, cholesterol levels in the blood, obesity levels, smoking, and exercise levels.
The results of this study confirmed the findings of earlier research studies that atherosclerosis, which leads to coronary artery (heart) disease does, indeed, begin early in life. The teenagers who followed only a few (or none) of the heart-healthy lifestyle recommendations throughout childhood were 78 percent more likely to have evidence, by ultrasound, of early atherosclerosis of the aorta when compared to the teens who had followed most of the recommended heart-healthy lifestyle strategies!
The findings of this long-term prospective randomized clinical research study are enormously important, as they show that failing to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle during childhood leads to a huge increase in the incidence of early atherosclerosis which, in turn, would be expected to progress to symptoms of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. As with prior clinical research studies, this study confirms that physical activity levels, diet, body weight, exposure to tobacco smoke, and other modifiable lifestyle factors play an important role in the development of atherosclerosis, even during childhood. Therefore, based upon this important study’s findings, it appears that it really is never too soon to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle!Parents who wish to minimize the future risk of cardiovascular disease in their children should, therefore, take note of the findings of this innovative research study, even during the earliest years of their children’s lives.
As I discuss in my bestselling book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, living an evidence-based cancer prevention lifestyle not only reduces your risk of dying from cancer, but also reduces your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease at the same time.
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Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity
Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author
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