LOS ANGELES (February 16, 2000) – Although commonly considered a threat to people in their middle and later years, heart disease often gets its start in childhood, and a heart researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center says parents and schools could be making a bigger difference today in preventing future epidemics.
Although messages about lifestyle changes have historically been aimed at adults, studies in recent years have found early stages of plaque buildup in the arteries of young people in their teens and 20s. An accumulation of cholesterol in an artery, called atherosclerosis, can lead to restricted blood flow and blood clot formation, which triggers heart attacks and sudden death.
“The lesson is obvious. These young people who have high cholesterol and early stages of plaque buildup are going to become adults who are at risk for heart attacks and strokes and need angioplasty or bypass surgery,” says P.K. Shah, M.D., director of the Division of Cardiology and the Atherosclerosis Research Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
“There is an opportunity for parents and educators to teach heart-healthy habits when they have these children at a young age – in terms of diet, exercise and never picking up smoking. Teen-agers who smoke are most likely to be adults who smoke. Influencing lifestyles during teen-age and pre-teen years is what we consider to be the way to prevent a future epidemic,” according to Dr. Shah.
He says physical activity levels are decreasing and obesity rates in children are rising in a “very worrisome trend,” which increases heart disease risk. He urges parents to direct their children away from the couch and TV, and to make fruits and vegetables more readily available than high-fat snacks. “If you don’t keep those kinds of foods in the refrigerator, kids won’t have access.”
“It’s hard to keep kids from eating junk food. That’s a challenge for families and schools, and I think the worst culprits are the schools. There’s very little attention to nutrition,” says Dr. Shah. “I feel very strongly that we must require schools to have heart-healthy foods in their cafeterias. That’s where the impact can be made for the nation. We could influence a lot of people and prevent a great deal of disease that way.”
The above story is based on materials provided by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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