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Is My Child at Risk for Heart Disease? | MyLifeStages
Taking steps to prevent cardiovascular disease — at any age — is important since heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
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Pinterest Pin ItIs My Child at Risk for Heart Disease?

Is My Child at Risk for Heart Disease?

Posted on 02/23/2016  by  Healthy Living Blog 

Taking steps to prevent cardiovascular disease — at any age — is important since heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. But did you know that even children can have certain risk factors present that greatly increase the likelihood they will develop heart disease as an adult?

February is American Heart Month; a good time to remember that caring for our hearts is one of the most important things we can do for our health. One of the biggest risk factors contributing to heart disease is obesity, even in children and teenagers. Youths who are overweight, sedentary, lack proper nutrition or who are diabetic are at an increased risk of developing heart disease later in life.

This is especially troubling as childhood obesity rates in America have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents during the past three decades, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40 percent of the children are overweight or obese, according to the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity.

So how do we help our children avoid heart disease? David Tejeda, M.D., a pediatrician with the Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, says children should have routine visits with their pediatrician to make sure they are at a healthy weight and otherwise on track for a healthy life.

“It’s important for children to have regular checkups with their pediatrician to check height, weight, blood pressure and have standard laboratory tests done,” Dr. Tejeda says. “At these appointments the doctor can discuss any health concerns related to genetics and a family history of disease.”

One way to monitor a child’s health is to test their cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that can clog arteries and lead to cardiovascular disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children ages 9 through 11 be screened for high blood cholesterol levels due to the growing epidemic of obesity in children.

In some cases, Dr. Tejeda says cholesterol screening should take place even earlier in a child’s life — especially if they are obese or have high blood pressure.

“If a male parent or grandparent has had a heart attack or stroke at age 55 or earlier, or a female parent or grandparent has had a cardiac event at age 65 or earlier, the child’s cholesterol should be tested between the ages of 2 and 10,” he says. “The same goes for children whose parents or grandparents have a cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL or higher.”

If there are no genetic or additional risk factors, children can wait until they become young adults to be screened again. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a cholesterol level screening between the ages of 17 and 21.

Prescription medication treatment can be considered for children ages 10 and older who have an extremely high cholesterol level. But for the most part, an improved diet and more physical exercise can reduce cholesterol levels and help support healthy heart development.

Dr. Tejeda suggests these tips to help your entire family be heart healthy:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
    Cut back on foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Avoid fast food and limit fruit juices because they are high in calories and sugar. Follow heart-healthy cooking tips.
  • Limit screen time.
    “Get televisions out of the bedroom and limit your child’s time on their phone or computer,” Dr. Tejeda says. “Too much screen time can raise the risk of obesity, which in turn raises the risk of heart disease.”
  • Exercise as a family.
    Walk, bike, rollerblade or do some other physical activity together every night after dinner for 30 to 60 minutes. Making it a family activity makes it fun.
  • Be a role model.
    “Be a role model by not smoking, getting regular exercise and having good nutrition,” Dr. Tejeda says. “Children are like sponges, constantly soaking up information from the things that happen around them.”
  • Consult with a doctor about weight loss.
    Most of the time pediatricians want children to slow down their weight gain while they are still growing taller, as opposed to dieting and losing weight. However, if you or your family members need to lose weight, lead that effort by creating a supportive environment free of unhealthy foods. Losing just 10 pounds can help lower the risk for heart disease in adults.

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David Tejeda, M.D., is a pediatrician with the Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation. He primarily sees patients at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.