Heart Health

Less Than 30% Of US Kids Score High For Heart Health. Here’s Why.

Cardiovascular health only gets worse as kids get older.

Originally Published: 
A young child eats fast food burger, fries, and soda.
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If you thought poor heart health only became a concern in middle age, think again. A new study finds that a frightening majority of children and teens have less than ideal cardiovascular health, and the consequences could last a lifetime.

Using data compiled through the American Heart Association’s new Life’s Essential 8 heart health scoring system, researchers determined that less than 30% of children aged 2 to 19 have high cardiovascular health (CVH). Kids with high cardiovascular health are less likely to have subclinical cardiovascular disease in middle age.

And as children age, their heart health tends to decline, according to the study, which included nearly 14,000 adult and 10,000 child participants who did not have cardiovascular disease. The data shows that 56% of children 2- to 5-year-olds had high cardiovascular health, but only 33% of 6- to 11-year-olds and 14% of 12- to 19-year-olds hit the mark for optimal CVH.

Life’s Essential 8 is a checklist designed to easily quantify heart health using the following metrics: diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, sleep duration, weight/body mass index (BMI), blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Some measures are only considered once kids hit a certain age.

For U.S. children, perhaps unsurprisingly, diet was a leading factor in low cardiovascular health scores. “We found that among U.S. children, scores were lowest for the diet metric, which is comparable to what we saw in adults,” senior author Amanda Marma Perak, M.D., a cardiologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release.

“Individuals and families who improve their eating patterns can markedly improve their total cardiovascular health, even independent of weight change. In addition to families’ efforts to improve, we also need policy-level support for better diets, such as subsidies for fruit and vegetable production or making healthier foods more readily available and removing sugar-sweetened beverage options in schools.”

Parents didn’t fare much better in the realm of cardiovascular health. In total, 80% of U.S. adults have low to moderate heart health, according to the study. Of the eight metrics considered, U.S. adults scored lowest in diet, physical activity, and weight/BMI, and scores generally decreased with age.

There were also variations across ethnic and racial demographics. Asian Americans had the highest CVH scores, followed by non-Hispanic whites, non-Mexican Hispanics, Mexican Americans, and Non-Hispanic Black individuals. On average, women scored hire than men.

"These data represent the first look at the cardiovascular health of the U.S. population using the AHA's new Life’s Essential 8 scoring algorithm,” said study leader Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., president of the American Heart Association and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, in a press release. “Overall, the cardiovascular health of the U.S. population is suboptimal.”

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