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Should We Worry More About Kids' Heart Health?

Photograph by Twenty20

Worrying about cholesterol levels and blood pressure might seem like concerns of middle age and beyond, but in a new statement from the American Heart Association (AHA), experts say we need to pay more attention to our children’s heart health.

The AHA looked at data from 2007 to 2008 and the numbers they found may surprise you. Nearly 91 percent of children had unhealthy diets, with children ages 2 to 19 getting almost all their calories from simple carbohydrates like sugary desserts and beverages. What’s more, only about half of boys and a third of girls between ages 6 and 11 are meeting the minimum recommended amount of physical activity per day of 60 minutes.

The AHA authors also estimated that 10 to 27 percent of U.S. children and adolescents were obese, while about a third of children and adolescents had elevated cholesterol levels, and about 20 percent of girls and 37 percent of boys 12 to 19 had high blood sugar.

"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,” said lead author Dr. Julia Steinberger.

Those standards include having a healthy height to weight ratio or body mass index (for children that means being below the 85th percentile), getting enough exercise (at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity per day), not smoking, following a healthy diet and maintaining a total cholesterol lower than 170 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), blood pressure below the 90th percentile, and fasting blood sugar below 100 mg/dL.

"It’s very difficult to achieve this if you only target the child—it has to be a commitment of the entire family," Steinberger told Reuters, adding that schools need to be involved in promoting a healthy lifestyle as well.

"Kids are born with ideal health," Steinberger noted in an interview with Science World Report. "So if we could make the effort to improve some of these elements, especially the diet and physical activity, I think we would have a much healthier young adult and adult population."

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