Story by: Sara Sidery on January 24, 2022
In many cases, preventing heart disease in children can be accomplished with lifestyle changes.
Preventable heart disease in children is increasing, likely tied to a widespread increase in childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 children ages 6 to 19 is obese. Children in the U.S. typically have some of the highest cholesterol levels in the world. Studies show that 7% of children ages 10 to 15 have early signs of atherosclerosis, a buildup of cholesterol that can lead to heart attack and stroke. The cause is mainly due to eating a diet high in saturated fat.
A healthy lifestyle can reduce a child’s risk of developing heart disease, according to Jyothi M. Matta, M.D., pediatric cardiologist with Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.
“Parents play a major role in preventing heart disease in children and instilling a heart-healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Matta said. “Preventive cardiology aims to protect children from developing heart disease later in life.”
Parents and family are their child’s first role models and can help prevent heart disease by teaching healthy lifestyle habits from a young age. This includes eating a well-balanced and healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, having an active lifestyle with regular aerobic exercise, and avoiding tobacco.
“Children learn what they see at home,” Dr. Matta said. “Parents should lead by example — but they also can make it fun to implement heart-healthy habits.”
Physical exercise is a major tool to help prevent heart disease in children. Parents can plan physical activities, spend time outside together and exercise in front of the kids or with them.
A healthy diet also aids in heart disease prevention. Parents and children can plan healthy meals together, grocery shop together and cook together.
Creating these kinds of habits early on will help children grow into healthy adults.
“Suddenly incorporating healthy habits can feel like a punishment if a sudden change is necessary due to a new health concern,” Dr. Matta said. “It’s never too early to start these conversations with your child.”
If your family is implementing new changes to promote a healthy lifestyle, several strategies can help set you up for success: Set achievable goals for healthy habits, plan and prep meals ahead of time, make a list of fun ways to stay active, and find tools or hobbies to reduce stress.
The team at Norton Children’s Heart Institute practices preventive cardiology to help more children and families live heart-healthy lifestyles. Talk to a member of the team.
Call (502) 629-2929
Obesity can cause heart disease and may lead to other health issues, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes that starts in childhood and persists into adulthood.
Genetics and family history also can heighten a child’s risk, but families can take action to help prevent heart disease in children before it starts. You should tell your child’s pediatrician if your family has a history of heart disease or any other risk factors.
Preventing heart disease in children also involves taking proactive steps with a pediatrician. Be sure to schedule your child’s annual wellness checkup. Your child’s pediatrician can screen for risk factors and monitor any developing conditions. They also will monitor a child’s height, weight and blood pressure, along with other lifestyle habits, such as exposure to tobacco smoke, exercise, diet and sleep.
The CDC recommends that children should have their cholesterol checked at least once between ages 9 and 11 and again between ages 17 and 21. A pediatrician may recommend additional screening, depending on a child’s risk factors.