Over 70% of American children have poor heart health


Under 30% of American children had high cardiovascular health scores.

This is the first study in the United States to measure cardiovascular health using the new American Heart Association criteria and score.

Most children and teens in the United States have low cardiovascular health scores, according to the first study to use the American Heart Association’s new “Life’s Essential 8” scoring methodology and metrics to assess cardiovascular health levels in adults and children (CVH). Overall, less than 30% of children aged 2 to 19 years had high CVH.

The number of children with high CVH decreased significantly with age: 56% of children aged 2–5 years had high CVH, compared with 33% of children aged 6–11 years and 14% of youth aged 12–19 years. The research was published in the journal Traffic.

“We found that among US children, scores were lower on the diet measure, which is comparable to what we saw in adults,” said senior author Amanda Marma Perak, MD, a cardiologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Individuals and families who improve their dietary patterns can significantly improve their overall cardiovascular health, even independent of weight change. In addition to families’ efforts to improve, we also need policy support for better diets, such as subsidizing fruit and vegetable production or making healthier food more readily available and removing sugary drink options in schools.”

The revised CVH definition includes eight components: sleep duration, a new measure, as well as modified versions of the previous seven measures: diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, BMI, blood lipids, blood glucose, and blood pressure. The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) from 2013 to 2018 for their research. There were 13,521 adult participants and 9,888 child participants, representing more than 201 million people and 74 million children in the United States.

Only three measures of CVH (diet, physical activity, and BMI) were available in NHANES for all children aged 2 to 19 years. With increasing age, other measures were added: lipids at 6 years, blood pressure at 8 years, nicotine and glucose at 12 years, and sleep at 16 years.

“Maintaining superior cardiovascular health at all ages is associated with extremely favorable health outcomes,” said Dr. Marma Perak, who was the pediatric expert for the concurrent publication of the American Heart Association President Advisory that redefined the concept of CVH through the new measurements.

“Children with high CVH have a lower burden of subclinical CVD in midlife. And for children who manage to maintain a high CVH into late adolescence or young adulthood, the risk of early clinical CVD events over the next 30 years is extremely low. “Ultimately, the new measures of CVH will allow clinicians and scientists to track changes more precisely so they can intervene earlier and put children on a healthier path to adulthood.”

Reference: “Cardiovascular Health Status in US Adults and Children Using the New American Heart Association ‘Life’s Essential 8’ Measures: Prevalence Estimates from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2013-2018” by Donald M Lloyd-Jones, Hongyan Ning, Darwin Labarthe, LaPrincess Brewer, Garima Sharma, Wayne Rosamond, Randi E. Foraker, Terrie Black, Michael A. Grandner, Norrina B. Allen, Cheryl Anderson, Helen Lavretsky, and Amanda M. Perak, 29 June 2022, Traffic.
DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.122.060911

Research at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute.

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