According to a scientific statement released by the American Heart Association (AHA), a majority of U.S. children don’t meet the standards that have been set for ideal cardiovascular health. Most children have been reported to exhibit low physical activity and poor diet.
Julia Steinberger, MD, of the AHA, and colleagues said that a lot of children lack a heart-healthy diet along with the daily recommended physical activity levels. The data shows that only a third to half of the children receives the recommended amount of physical activity. The findings have been characterized by authors as a ‘companion piece’ to the AHA’s 2010 report. The ideal health metrics from the 2010 report include:
- Never tried or smoked a whole cigarette
- BMI less than the 85th percentile
- At least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity
- Healthy diet score on four to five components
- Total cholesterol less than 170 mg/dL
- Blood pressure under the 90th percentile
- Fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL
Steinberger added that engaging in the shared health behaviors early in life can play a huge role in maintaining ideal health for years to come. “Instead of taking a wait-and-see approach by treating disease later in adulthood, we should help children maintain the standards of ideal cardiovascular health that most children are born with.”
According to the CDC’s 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) less than 1% of children aged 2-19 had a diet score that included the four to five components that are deemed necessary for a healthy diet. A total of 86% boys and 83% girls were observed to have a diet that had either none or only one of the four to five necessary components.
“Children are eating high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and not eating enough healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, fish and other foods strongly associated with good heart health and a healthy body weight,” said Steinberger.
Coming to the physical activity of children aged 2-19, only 48.9% boys and 34.7% girls (aged 6-11) received the daily recommended 60 minutes of physical activity. However, with an increase in age the percentage decreased with approximately 10% of boys and only 3%-5% of girls (aged 12-15 and 16-19) receiving the daily recommended amount of physical activity. A total of 13% and 12% of adolescent boys and girls, respectively, reported no physical activity for the past 30 days. An ideal BMI was observed in only 50%-60% of adolescents while a poor BMI was observed in 19%-27%. Smoking a cigarette in the last 30 days was reported by a third of adolescents.
Unhealthy behavior is linked to cardiovascular health. More than 15% of boys and girls (ages 6-11) showed intermediate status for total cholesterol. A total of 10% reported a poor status. Intermediate or poor cholesterol was observed in 26%-35% adolescents. The portion of adolescents with intermediate or poor fasting blood glucose was 20%-38%. However, an estimated 90% of children and adolescents showed ideal blood pressure.
Pediatricians can help children who fall below the recommended ideal thresholds. They can play a role in correcting the behavioral metrics that are involved in having an ideal healthy heart. Pediatricians can also aid in the correction of unhealthy eating habits as the CHILD 1 (Cardiovascular Health Integrated Lifestyle Diet) recommendation begins at birth and lasts till 18 years of age.
According to Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, and co-author of the report “Pediatricians are our most important partners going forward. They have the power, along with the schools and public policy, to really help reverse this epidemic. If we can improve eating patterns and increase physical activity among children, we can dramatically alter their life course.”
The authors of the study also pointed out that “a major goal for health professionals is to encourage smoking cessation in primary users, to reduce secondhand exposure and to prevent smoking initiation.”
Schools can play a part in improving the physical activity levels of children by organizing programs that involve physical activities and/or physical education classes. The authors say that more longitudinal research is required as well as improved surveillance. Regardless, the current report does show that U.S children are in need of a healthier diet and a more physical lifestyle. Pediatricians, schools, and parents need to work together in order to ensure that the young generation is able to live a better life as they grow up.