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Children and Heart Disease: What's Wrong With This Picture?

As more children become obese, pediatric heart disease is becoming more common.

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.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Childhood Heart Disease

Worried about your child's risk for getting heart disease? Here are some questions you can ask your pediatrician:

Is my child's weight healthy?

"We've lost track of what is normal weight," says Kimball. Your child's BMI should be calculated beginning at age 2, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A healthy weight is between the fifth percentile and the 85th percentile, depending on age and sex.

Should my child's cholesterol levels be checked?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children with a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, children with risk factors such as obesity or diabetes, and children whose family history is unknown should all be screened for high cholesterol. Screening should be done after age 2 but before age 10.

What is my child's blood pressure?

This is especially important to know, Kimball says, if your child is overweight. "Obesity begets hypertension," he says.

Should I test my child for diabetes?

An overweight child is at risk for type 2 diabetes, which, left untreated, can lead to multiple health problems, including heart disease.

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Reviewed on August 22, 2009

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