Children and Heart Disease: What's Wrong With This Picture?
As more children become obese, pediatric heart disease is becoming more common.
The Childhood Obesity Epidemic continued...
Obesity, in turn, is triggering a host of other heart disease risk factors
in children, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
-- considered "adult" health problems until recently. The result? A higher risk
of heart disease and stroke at young ages, Kimball says. "We're seeing changes
in heart structure and artery structure [in kids] that we normally don't see
until well into adulthood," Kimball says.
The cholesterol problem among children and teens has gotten so bad that some
doctors are prescribing cholesterol-lowering statins (such as Lipitor) for
children, although the practice is controversial. "It's still pretty rare, but
it is happening," Kimball says.
Solutions to Childhood Obesity
Experts agree the obvious and urgent starting point is weight loss. Once
weight is reduced to a healthy level, some of the other risk factors take care
of themselves. And even children with greatly increased heart disease risks
might be able to turn things around.
Alex did. She and her doctors decided on gastric bypass surgery -- not a
panacea, Kimball emphasizes, but a wise treatment for carefully selected
patients. While waiting for the operation, Alex exercised more. Walking was her
main form of exercise. She also played golf, biked, and swam when she could.
She followed a diet that emphasized plenty of protein but much less fat, and
she measured servings so portion sizes were reasonable. She lost about 20
pounds and remained on statin drugs to lower her cholesterol, then had the
surgery when she was 15.
Three years later, Alex's weight has decreased, and she is losing more
weight by continuing to follow the high-protein, low-fat diet. She is down to
240 pounds and still working at it. Her goal is a BMI below 25 -- considered a
healthy level. For her, that's about 143 pounds. And she not only has reduced
her risk of having a heart attack or stroke but also has reclaimed her life.
"She's an active 19-year-old, in college and working full time. She is an
avid golfer now and played softball her senior year of high school. She's
keeping up with everyone. She's in a whole new realm of life," Benton says.