Improving cardiovascular health begins in childhood

In 2010 the American Heart Association set a goal: Improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent, all by the year 2020.

The focus of that goal is the adult American population, but in order to have healthy adults, there first needs to be healthy children.

In an attempt to ultimately improve the cardiovascular health of adults, the AHA released a scientific statement to both promote cardiovascular health in all children and improve the cardiovascular heath of children with specific risk factors.

United States data from 2009 to 2010 indicates that 17 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese, while 15 percent of that group are classified as overweight. Obesity at a young age is linked to increased left ventricular mass in adulthood as well as increased carotid intima-media thickness measured in adulthood.

The AHA identified six metrics to determine a child’s cardiovascular health: abstinence from smoking, a body mass index below the 85th percentile, more than 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity daily, a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, a total cholesterol level below 170 mg/dL, blood pressure level below the 90th percentile and a fasting blood glucose level below 100 mg/dL.

While many children are born healthy, there is a high likelihood of developing unhealthy behavioral patterns early in life. A life-course approach to cardiovascular health requires focusing on these metrics starting in childhood instead of taking a wait-and-see approach by simply treating the problems after they being to occur.