Childhood presents a golden opportunity for health promotion, based on a recent paper that highlights the importance of learning healthy behaviors early in life to help prevent heart disease in adulthood.
Published as the “Review Topic of the Week” in the Journal of the American College Cardiology, this paper focused on early promotion of heart health in children. It explained why early intervention is important, strategies for teaching children about heart health, and key areas for future research. All with the goal of paving the way for a healthier future that is free of heart disease.
So why should we focus on promoting heart health in children?
To start, heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the world. In the United States alone, heart disease kills an estimated 610,000 Americans a year, accounting for one in four deaths. But unlike many other diseases, we actually have control of many risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular risk, such as obesity, inactivity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Teaching kids about healthy habits could help prevent these risk factors later in life.
Also, as authors explain, risk factors for heart disease are now showing up earlier in life and in greater numbers than ever before. Studies suggest that less than 1% of U.S. children have ideal eating habits and only half get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. An estimated 8% of children already have high cholesterol and 20% of high school students report tobacco use—a major risk factor for heart disease.
Evidence also shows that these risk factors significantly increase risk for heart disease later in life, unless promptly addressed. And that’s part of the reason why early intervention is so important. Not only is childhood an ideal time to stop unhealthy habits and reverse any warning signs of poor health, it’s an opportunity for prevention.
Authors note that education and programming should be offered in schools and communities, and ideally teach healthy habits to the entire family. These interventions can begin as early as preschool, promoting things like exercise, a healthy diet, body awareness and management of emotions.
At the same time, authors highlight the need for policies that make childhood health promotion a priority. They also encourage future research to better understand the long-term impacts of childhood health and identify the best possible solutions to improve outcomes.
With these changes, experts believe we can help reverse alarming health trends in children and reduce the impact of heart disease on future generations.