Overweight children up to five times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke before age of 65

Overweight children are three to five times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke before they reach the age of 65 warns the World Heart Federation, an NGO dedicated to the prevention of heart disease and stroke, on World Heart Day, Sunday 26th September 2004.

Children are increasingly adopting unhealthy lifestyles and the leading causes of heart disease and stroke, obesity, poor diets, smoking and physical inactivity, are now being seen at an alarmingly early age. Because of this, World Heart Day will focus on Children, Adolescents and Heart Disease. Around 100 countries will take part in this, the fifth annual, World Heart Day with member societies organising educational activities for everyone to get involved. Thousands of people around the world will join in one of the walks, runs, jump rope or fitness sessions, have a health check or learn about hearthealthy lifestyles from the public talks, scientific forums and exhibitions.

"We must protect children from an environment that leads to heart disease by teaching life-long healthy eating habits and limiting exposure to unhealthy food,” said Sania Nishtar, Chairperson of the Foundations Advisory Board for the World Heart Federation. “Children and adolescents who have balanced, nutritious diets, exercise regularly and resist the pressure to start smoking, should grow into fit, healthy adults. Increasing levels of physical activity is an immediate priority as two thirds of children worldwide are insufficiently active for their health ,” said Sania.

Tobacco also threatens the future health of children's hearts. Globally, nearly 25 per cent of all students smoke, having lit their first cigarette before the age of ten. The situation is made worse by almost half of all the children worldwide being subjected to passive smoke as they live in the home of a smoker. Children who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke involuntarily suffer from many of the diseases of active smokers and have a 25 per cent increased risk of developing both lung cancer and heart disease and an 80 per cent increased risk of suffering a stroke.

A healthy heart is vital for living life to the full, which is why the World Heart Federation created World Heart Day. The aim is to increase awareness of the threat of heart disease and stroke and the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle, so that children, adolescents and adults all over the world can live better, longer.

"We hold World Heart Day to encourage the world's population to lead a healthier lifestyle by taking more physical exercise and reducing the risk of heart disease through smoke-free living, healthy nutrition and weight control, amongst other measures," said Professor Poole-Wilson, President of the World Heart Federation. “We also call on governments to get involved and adopt and implement policies which will work to reduce the risk factors for heart disease and stroke,” said Professor Poole-Wilson.

The World Heart Federation’s advice for heart healthy families is:

  • Increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and decrease sugar and salt intake, for example by limiting sweets, soft drinks and manufactured snacks and using less salt when cooking.
  • Limit energy intake from total fats and shift fat consumption away from saturated fats such as butter, palm and coconut oils to unsaturated fats such as spreads. Eliminate foods that contain transfats, as they are particularly harmful to heart health.
  • It is good to breastfeed your baby as long as you can.
  • Prepare meals that are well-balanced and high in nutrients and include whole grains, lean meat and fish. Bake or steam instead of frying.
  • Make exercise a part of your life. Enjoy at least 30 minutes of activity that raises your heartbeat each day and encourage children to participate in sports groups.

Childhood obesity is identified using the Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is calculated from a person's weight in kilograms and height in metres (kg/m2). The most commonly used definitions of overweight and obesity for children in the UK are a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 for overweight and 30.0 and above for obese, the same as those used for adults. However, children's BMI can vary with age and height therefore a single definition may not be the most appropriate measure.

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