ORLANDO, Fla.—A new analysis of federal data provides a dismal picture of children's cardiovascular health that suggests the current generation of teenagers could be at risk of increased heart disease.
Diet in particular was a problem, with not one of the 5,450 children randomly selected for the survey from the U.S. population meeting the standards for diet. Taking out the diet measure, still just 16.4% of boys and 11.3% of girls were rated ideal on all of the other six criteria, which included smoking, exercise, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.
"In this country, essentially all of us are born with ideal cardiovascular health, but we lose it very quickly," said Donald Lloyd-Jones, chief of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and senior author of the report.
The focus on children reflects growing awareness that while heart attacks and other consequences of cardiovascular disease typically strike later in life, the biological processes that lead to them begin in childhood. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said some studies indicate that "by six months, you can already see a worsening of cholesterol and blood pressure" because of diet and other factors.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is conducted by the CDC periodically among a nationally representative sample of Americans to track health issues. The new report, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, is based on an analysis of three different surveys of adolescents aged 12 to 19 between 2003 and 2008, including a sampling intended to accurately represent minorities. The children in the study included 4,157 kids aged 12 to 17.
The toughest measure to hit was healthy diet, said Christina Shay, a researcher at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and first author of the study. Not one adolescent reported meeting recommended targets on five different nutrition categories: at least 4½ servings of fruits and vegetables a day; three whole-grain servings a day; two or more servings of fish a week; less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily; and less than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks a week.