New Research Links Unhealthy Habits During Childhood to Heart Disease

by Selin Gok, age 16

Medical researchers are uncovering links between unhealthy habits during childhood and risk for heart disease later in life. This is mainly due to the growing concerns about the cardiovascular health of millions of children in the United States who are considered obese or overweight. Researchers have found that the relative age and state of a child’s arteries play a primary role in determining their risk for cardiovascular problems.

Triglycerides are an indicator of fat and sugar levels in the blood stream. Their structure consists of a backbone of fat with three sugars attached. A calculation of triglycerides is a simple way to assess a child’s arterial health. Determined by a standard blood test, this calculation is the ratio of triglycerides to HDL, also known as good cholesterol. However, this calculation is often overlooked.

A study at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, which included 900 children and young adults, investigated their cardiovascular heath. It revealed that the higher the ratio of triglycerides to HDL, the greater the possibility of having stiff and damaged arteries.

“Stiff vessels make your heart work harder. It isn’t good for you,” said Elaine Urbina, head of preventive cardiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and lead author of the study.

Hardening of the arteries is a major problem among adults. It typically starts early. A combination of aging and the amassed impact of blood pressure over time cause health problems later. When found in children, stiff arteries are a sign of “accelerated aging” and raise the risk of heart problems.

In another study conducted by Dr. Urbina and her colleagues, individuals ages 10 to 26 participated in a fasting experiment to see if there was a similar correlation of high triglyceride-to-HDL ratio and arterial stiffness in children. The results showed that one third of the participants had stiff arteries.

“Being overweight and the cholesterol problems that often accompany it have an important impact on your blood vessels,” suggests Sarah de Ferranti, director of preventive cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Instead of resorting to medication, the American Heart Association recommends that children with these problems change their lifestyle. One way for kids to lead a healthier lifestyle is by cutting down on sugary beverages and junk food, and exercising daily. By doing this, children can possibly begin to repair the damage done to their arteries.

[Source: The Wall Street Journal]