Preventing heart disease begins with educating our children. When appropriate health behaviors are taught at home, in school, and in the community, children will be equipped with the necessary skills to defend against the nation's number one killer.
A causal relationship exists between children's health and adult health. Results from the Bogalusa Heart Study (a comprehensive study that tracked 5,000 children in Bogalusa, Louisiana over 12 years) revealed, among other things, that cardiovascular risk factors (behaviors that contribute to heart disease) have origins in childhood. Specifically, fat deposits were found in 3-year-olds' aortas and in teenagers' coronary arteries!
To better understand the severity of cardiovascular disease in children, let's examine three important risk factors.
Nutritional and Weight Problems
Childhood obesity is now recognized as a serious disease affecting 25% of American children. The immediate and potential risks are both physically and psychologically damaging. The reasons for childhood obesity are numerous and include the consumption of high fat foods, decline of exercise, parents limited nutritional knowledge, and the changing American family.
Many of our children are also developing dysfunctional eating behaviors that lead to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, etc. Learning to eat healthy is critical to our children's physical and psychological well-being, as the following unfortunate statistics reveal:
- One out of four American children is obese.
- From 1965 to1980, obesity rose 54% in children 6-11 years and 39% for children 12-17 years of age.
- Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illnesses among adolescent girls.
- One out of 10 teens has a clinical eating disorder.
- Each year, 6% of people with eating disorders die.
The merits of exercise are overwhelming. Exercise is tied to body shape, weight control, and mental health. New studies have linked the role of exercise to certain medical conditions. A recent investigation looking at 13,000 men and women over an eight-year period concluded that inactivity is now considered to be a cardiovascular risk factor. Just as obesity and smoking contribute to the risk of heart disease, so does the lack of exercise. An inactive woman's chance of dying increases 4.6% compared to active women. An inactive man's chance increases 6.5% compared to an active man!
Helping our children develop good exercise habits prepares them for a healthy adulthood. Unfortunately, 75% of schools in the U.S. either terminated their physical education teachers or reassigned them to other classes. Consequently, a child may only receive one or two physical education classes a week. It becomes the parent's job, therefore, to teach and reinforce these healthy behaviors. Again, the sad statistics speak for themselves:
- Approximately 50% of children do not engage in regular physical activity.
- Only 25% of high school girls and 50% of boys participate in vigorous exercise.
- Only 19% of girls attend physical education classes on a regular basis.
- Less than 12% of either parent spend one hour a week engaged in some form of recreational activity with their child.
If you are or were a smoker, think about when you began -- probably as a teenager. Every day approximately 3,000 young people become smokers. In fact, 75% of adult smokers started before age 18 and 90% began before age 21. Let's protect our children from this terrible addiction. Children must have the right to breathe unpolluted air from a pair of clean lungs.
Identifiable risk factors (such as: smoking, obesity, and the lack of exercise) are clearly associated with heart disease. Since these behaviors are modifiable, heart disease can be prevented. Prevention begins in the home with parents as role models and by teaching children healthy behaviors. Keep in mind, a parent's lifestyle often becomes a road map of the child's life.
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