Key to lifelong heart health is childhood intervention

December 06, 2018

Evolving evidence shows that heart healthy habits in adults are rooted in the environments we live in in early childhood, representing a window of opportunity in young children to focus on health promotion and potentially prevent disease in adulthood, according to a review paper published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Senior author Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, MACC, will also discuss related findings on Dec. 9 in a Future of Health Education Session at the American College of Cardiology's New York Cardiovascular Symposium.

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death worldwide, and many of the associated risk factors are modifiable behaviors. In this review paper, the authors describe what the future of health promotion looks like and specifically address three focus areas: reasons why children should be a focus for health promotion; strategies for health promotion in children along with legislative efforts; and research gaps.

"Because of the unique plasticity of the human brain during childhood, this period represents a window of opportunity to instill lifelong lasting healthy habits, therefore preventing future development of cardiovascular disease," Fuster said. "By educating on health promotion early in life, we may also have the potential to reduce the burden of other disease as well."

Modifiable risk factors in children and adolescents can include smoking, obesity, physical activity and unhealthy diet, as well as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood glucose. Research has shown that less than 1 percent of children have ideal dietary habits and only about 50 percent of adolescents get the guideline recommended amount of physical activity. However, research has also shown that children with unhealthy habits who adopt healthy habits before adulthood have similar health outcomes to those who were never unhealthy.

According to researchers, to effectively change the health habits of children, we must use a multicomponent educational approach that involves their family and their teachers. In the review, several strategies for school-based initiatives, family- and community-based interventions, and legislation and public policy initiatives are discussed.

Finally, the authors address the current gaps in research that might influence the success of health promotion interventions in children, including a lack of research on how family strain and emotional issues associated with socioeconomic status may influence unhealthy habits and limited longitudinal data directly linking unhealthy behaviors in children and cardiovascular outcomes in adults.

"The integration of school-, family- and community-based approaches, along with a wide support across multiple sectors through the implementation of public policies, are likely necessary for the success of health promotion programs in children," Fuster said. "However, long-term and large-scale research studies need to establish their effectiveness in reducing cardiovascular risk factors and disease later in life."
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Fuster's presentation, "The Future of Health Education Starting at Pre-School: Results in 4,000 Children at Short, Middle and Long Term," will be presented on Sunday, Dec. 9, at 10:20 a.m. ET as part of the ACC New York Cardiovascular Symposium and streamed live on the American College of Cardiology's Facebook page.

To register as media for the symposium or interview Fuster, contact Nicole Napoli at nnapoli@acc.org. Learn more about the symposium at ACC.org/nycvsymposium.

The American College of Cardiology envisions a world where innovation and knowledge optimize cardiovascular care and outcomes. As the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team, the mission of the College and its more than 52,000 members is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC bestows credentials upon cardiovascular professionals who meet stringent qualifications and leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College also provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research through its world-renowned JACC Journals, operates national registries to measure and improve care, and offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions. For more, visit acc.org.The Journal of the American College of Cardiology ranks among the top cardiovascular journals in the world for its scientific impact. JACC is the flagship for a family of journals--JACC: Cardiovascular Interventions, JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, JACC: Heart Failure, JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology and JACC: Basic to Translational Science--that prides themselves in publishing the top peer-reviewed research on all aspects of cardiovascular disease. Learn more at JACC.org.

American College of Cardiology

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