How Childhood Habits May Affect Heart Health

Heart health in adulthood may be affected by childhood factors like diet, weight and blood pressure

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Heart health isn't just a concern of those in middle age or the elderly. Childhood habits may have an effect on future heart health.

A new study found that even though most kids start off with good heart health, they can lose it with unhealthy life choices as they grow up.

The authors of this study claimed that the better kids are at making healthy decisions, the healthier their hearts will be when they become adults.

Anand Bhatt, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at Baylor Medical Center in Irving, TX, told dailyRx News that diet is a major factor in overall health.

"The cumulative effect of diet during childhood is greater than any other factor in terms of impacting the health and wellness of child for life," Dr. Bhatt said. "The modern diet and the modern life is full of fast food, processed food, salty food, and sugary food. It is deficient in vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, and the basic nutrients that are necessary for the healthy functioning of our metabolism and biochemical processes. If one eats home made, fresh food, rich in vegetables, fruits, and legumes it will make a huge difference on how early or how late he will develop high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease."

Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, led this study.

“Our findings indicate that, in general, children start with pretty good blood pressure,” Dr. Lloyd-Jones said in a press release. “But if they have a horrible diet, it will drive a worsening body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol levels.”

He continued, “The better we can equip our children to make healthy choices, the more cardiovascular health will be preserved into adulthood. And those who preserve their heart health into middle age live much longer and are much healthier while they live.”

Dr. Lloyd-Jones and team studied nearly 9,000 children, aged 2 to 11, from the 2003 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The research team looked at four measures for heart health: body mass index (BMI), diet, total cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Based on BMI levels, about 30 percent of children were obese or overweight, Dr. Lloyd-Jones and team noted. More children 6 to 11 years old were obese when compared to children 2 to 5 years old.

In terms of having a healthy diet, Dr. Lloyd-Jones and team used several indicators: low amounts of sugar-sweetened drinks and salt, and high amounts of whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables. Dr. Lloyd-Jones and team found that less than 1 percent of children met the healthy diet requirement.

Less than 10 percent of the kids ate the advised amount of fruits and vegetables (more than 4.5 cups or more per day) or fish (more than two 3.5-ounce servings a week). Only 3 percent of boys and 2.4 percent of girls ate the advised amount of whole grains (more than three 1-ounce servings a day).

And 90 percent of kids ate more salt than the recommended 1,500 milligrams or less per day. More than 50 percent of them drank too many sugar-sweetened drinks (no more than 450 calories of sugary drinks a week).

About 40 percent of kids had unsatisfactory or poor cholesterol levels.

“We really need better surveillance data, especially in children,” Dr. Lloyd-Jones said. “Information on physical activity, blood glucose and smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke are not available for younger children. Without knowing how much physical activity a child is doing, and therefore how many calories are needed, we can’t scale the diet metrics to a child’s needs. So we used the adult metrics, but understand that it would be difficult for a 5-year-old to take in as many fruits and vegetables as an adult.”

Dr. Lloyd-Jones said that the bottom line is that much of heart health is lost early on in life, which may set kids up to be unhealthy adults.

This study was published March 17 in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
March 16, 2015
Last Updated:
March 23, 2015