Less than 1 percent of children have 'ideal' cardiovascular health, AHA finds

Most children don't get enough physical activity

Many U.S. children do not meet basic standards for ideal cardiovascular health, according to an American Heart Association (AHA) scientific statement published Thursday in the journal Circulation.

According to AHA, metrics for ideal cardiovascular health include:

  • Eating a diet that scores on four to five nutritional measures;
  • Getting at least 60 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity;
  • Having a blood pressure under the 90th percentile;
  • Having a body mass index (BMI) under the 85th percentile;
  • Having a fasting blood glucose level of less than 100 mg/dL;
  • Having a total cholesterol level of less than 170 mg/dL; and
  • Never having tried or smoked an entire cigarette.

Statement details

The statement is based in part on an analysis of data from CDC's 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

AHA said that according to the CDC data, less than 1 percent of U.S. children met AHA's definition of ideal cardiovascular health.

AHA found that the majority of children scored poorly on dietary measures, with 91 percent reporting an unhealthy diet. For example, the data show that simple carbohydrates, such as sugary desserts and drinks, accounted for most of the daily calories among children ages two to 19.

According to the analysis, more than 50 percent of children failed to participate in 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Among kids ages six to 11, about 50 percent of boys and more than 33 percent of girls met AHA's recommendation for daily physical activity, compared with just 10 percent of teenage boys and 5 percent of teenage girls ages 16 to 19.

The analysis also found that 10 percent of children ages two to five were obese based on their BMIs. AHA said obesity levels also were high among kids ages 12 to 19, ranging between 19 to 27 percent.

Why exercise shouldn't be all—or even mostly—about losing weight

Further, the analysis found that:             

  • About 33 percent of adolescents reported trying a cigarette;
  • About 33 percent of children and adolescents have elevated cholesterol levels; and
  • About 20 percent of girls and 37 percent of boys ages 12 to 19 have high blood sugars.

Comments

Lead author Julia Steinberger in a release said, "Engaging in these ideal health behaviors early in life can have a tremendous benefit on maintaining ideal health throughout the lifespan." She added, "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."

The researchers said pediatricians and schools can help reverse certain outcomes for children who fall below cardiovascular health standards.

AHA's Donald Lloyd-Jones, who co-authored the statement, said, "Pediatricians are our most important partners going forward." He added, "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" (Walker, MedPage Today, 8/12; Oliver, U.S. News & World Report, 8/11; ABC 2, 8/11; Lee, Tech Times, 8/13; Reuters/Fox News, 8/12).

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