Research: heart health decline can begin in childhood

Kids in the U.S. don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, fish or whole grains, consume too much sodium and sugar-sweetened beverages and too many are overweight.

And all of that can have a negative impact on heart health.

New research, published in an American Heart Association journal, found that people are born with optimal heart health but it can decline substantially with unhealthy childhood behaviors.

“Our findings indicate that, in general, children start with pretty good blood pressure,” said Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, senior author of the study and professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a news release. “But if they have a horrible diet, it will drive a worsening body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol levels.

“The better we can equip our children to make healthy choices, the more cardiovascular health will be preserved into adulthood,” he said. “And those who preserve their heart health into middle age live much longer and are much healthier while they live.”

Researchers examined BMI, healthy diet, total cholesterol and blood pressure (four of the seven components of heart health) in nearly 9,000 children ages 2 to 11. They’re a representative sample of about 43.6 million children nationwide.

The research found that all children had at least one ideal measure, but none had all four.

An ideal diet score was the least prevalent, with less than 1 percent of children having four or five of the five components (low intakes of sugar-sweetened drinks and sodium and high intakes of whole grains, fish and fruits and vegetables) of a healthy diet.

The study also revealed that fewer than 10 percent of kids ate the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables (4 ½ cups per day), fish (two servings per week) or whole grains (three servings per day).

Ninety percent of kids ate more sodium than recommended by the heart association (less than 1,500 milligrams per day) and more than 50 percent consumed more than the recommended number of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages.

About 30 percent of kids were overweight or obese and about 40 percent had intermediate or poor total cholesterol levels.

Ideal blood pressure was the most common favorable metric of cardiovascular health, ranging from 88 percent to 93 percent, according to the research.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at or 360-735-4546.

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