Parents' Healthier Habits Lead to Healthier Kids
We all know that a diet laden with fats and sugar coupled with little or no regular exercise can lead to major health problems like diabetes and heart attacks in adults. But did you know that the beginnings of heart disease - the buildup of plaque in arteries - can also show up in kids with these same bad health habits?
A scary thought. But the good news is that this problem is solvable. Parents simply need to change kids' diet and exercise routines from harmful to helpful.
"We could probably eliminate 90 percent of the heart attacks if we'd make sure our kids were eating right and getting enough exercise from the start," says Dr. Henry McGill, senior scientist emeritus at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio. Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research is recognized for the quality of its basic research into the nature, causes, prevention, treatments, and cures for diseases.
"What we've found through literally decades of study is that the beginning of atherosclerosis (often called hardening of the arteries) can be detected in children as young as 12 years old," says McGill. "They may be in their 40s or 50s or 60s when they experience a heart attack, but the build-up of deposits on the artery walls began many years earlier, when they were kids."
Since 1987, McGill and research scientists from 13 other institutions across the country have been studying risk factors for adult coronary heart disease in a project called Pathobiological Determinants of Atherosclerosis in Youth (PDAY). They collected tissue and data from about 3,000 young persons 15 through 34 years of age - all of whom died of accidents, homicide, and suicide and were autopsied in forensic laboratories - and measured the atherosclerosis in their arteries.
The PDAY results show conclusively that the risk factors for adult coronary heart disease affect the progression of atherosclerosis beginning in the teen years. The association is so strong and consistent that a causal relationship appears highly likely. These results indicate that prevention of adult coronary heart disease should begin with control of risk factors beginning in adolescence, McGill said.
What can parents do?
Two common risk factors that parents can address, McGill said, are smoking and obesity. Too many calories and not enough exercise lead to obesity, which has become an epidemic in many developed nations and is the most powerful risk factor for diabetes. Diabetes leads to an array of health problems that include heart attacks, blindness, and kidney failure.
"We're seeing more kids today with adult-type diabetes than we've ever seen before. And, unfortunately, we still have about 20 percent of high school students in the U.S. smoking," McGill said. "And there's absolutely nothing good you can say about what smoking does to your body."
McGill exmphasizes that the main things parents can do is set a good example. "If you're a parent, don't smoke," he says. "Eat healthy. Exercise. If you're eating a lot of junk food, smoking, and letting yourself become overweight, you're teaching your kids to do the same thing. But it doesn't cost a thing to change those habits."
For more information on the PDAY study, visit sfbr.org.
- Courtesy Family Features