American Heart Association Comment:Association Between Multiple Cardiovascular Risk Factors And Atherosclerosis In Children And Young Adults

June 03, 1998

In the June 4, 1998, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers report findings indicating that as the number of cardiovascular risk factors increase, so does the severity of atherosclerosis in young people.

Researchers with the Bogalusa Heart Study conducted autopsies and obtained risk factor data on 93 people from two to 39 years of age who had died from various causes. Risk factors that correlated with atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries and aorta -- blood vessels in the heart -- included high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and cigarette smoking.

Speaking for the American Heart Association, Rae-Ellen Kavey, M.D., chairperson of the Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young, says, "This important research contribution adds additional compelling evidence that the atherosclerotic process begins in childhood and progresses into adulthood. Then it often leads to coronary heart disease, the major cause of death in the United States.

"However, the AHA does not recommend mass screenings of cholesterol for all children and adolescents because random values in the general population in childhood do not track well. What is recommended is selective screening for children in families with high cholesterol or a positive history of early heart disease."

The American Heart Association urges all Americans age 20 and older to have their physicians determine their total and HDL blood cholesterol levels. The AHA agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics that all children should have their blood pressure measured annually beginning at age three and those values charted compared to normal for age.

"In the Bogalusa autopsy study, researchers showed that traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease do their damage early, setting up conditions for heart disease later in life. This underscores the need to continue our efforts to educate children, parents, educators and health-care professionals about the importance of healthy lifestyle choices beginning in childhood. We need to aggressively encourage our young people to eat a healthy diet, become physically active, pay attention to weight and to not smoke.

"Attention to all the risk factors is particularly important for those people with a family history of heart disease or stroke," Kavey says.

American Heart Association

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