Childhood Obesity and Heart Disease

Childhood obesity is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). 1 in 3 children in the United States is overweight or obese. Nearly 60 percent of overweight children have at least one cardiovascular risk factor because they are overweight. Childhood is a critical time for preventing obesity and the development of CVD risk factors and ultimately CVD in adults.

Unhealthy eating behaviors, lack of physical activity, and diet related risk factors for CVD such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are established early in childhood and persist well into adulthood. The AAP recommends assessing the benefits and risks of medication use in children whose cholesterol levels are not reduced through diet changes and physical activity.Key strategies for reducing a child’s risk of developing obesity and CVD is promoting healthy eating behaviors, encouraging physical activity and reducing screen time (TV, videos, computers) during childhood.

Here are some tips to keep in mind to help prevent obesity and CVD in children:

Prepare breakfast daily
Offer children simple breakfasts such as oatmeal, low-sugar cereals, whole wheat toast and fruit.

Encourage ‘no thank you’ bites
Offer children each new healthy food ten to fifteen times before giving up to encourage the development of children’s own taste preferences.

Drive by the Drive-Thru
Prepare meals together as a family. Limit sweetened beverages and fast food.

Switch to 2%, 1% or fat-free milk for children two years old and older
In 2008 the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its milk consumption recommendations in response to the US childhood obesity epidemic. Here is a quick summary: Do not drink cow’s milk before one year. After one year and until two years of age drink whole milk. After two years of age drink fat-free or low-fat milk.

Enjoy simple activities together as a family
Get outside often with your children to play catch, jump rope, play tag, hide and seek or take a walk around the block after supper. Focus on all members of the family to encourage healthier eating, increasing physical activity and reducing screen time. Do not single out one child for change.

Williams C. et. al. Cardiovascular Health in Childhood - A Statement for Health Professionals from the Committee on Arteriosclerosis, Hypertension and Obesity in the Young of the Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young. American Heart Association. July 2, 2002:106 . 143-160.

Barlow, Sarah E., and the Expert Committee, Expert Committee Recommendations Regarding the Prevention, Assessment, and Treatment of Child and Adolescent Overweight and Obesity: Summary Report Pediatrics 2007 120: S164-S192