Children with healthy lifestyle habits are more likely to live healthy lives in adulthood. Unfortunately, according to the American Heart Association, most children aged 2–19 fail to meet current standards for cardiovascular health.

The AHA determined seven characteristics that contribute to optimal cardiovascular health and then analyzed current research regarding those characteristics. Here’s a rundown of what the organization discovered, using data from a 2007–2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey:

1. Smoking status. One-third of individuals aged 12–19 smoked or had smoked a cigarette in the last 30 days.

2. Body mass index. Among 2- to 5-year-olds, 9%–11% had poor BMI. That rate increased to 19%–27% in 12- to 19-year-olds.

3. Activity levels. Only half of boys and one-third of girls aged 6–11 achieved the recommended 60 minutes of activity each day. Among those aged 16–19, 5% of girls and 10% of boys met that recommendation.

4. Energy intake. Ninety-one percent of adolescents scored poorly on diet measures. Their diets consisted mostly of grain-based desserts and sugary drinks.

5, 6 & 7. Blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Most of the adolescents scored well on each of these measures.

The study’s lead researcher, Julia Steinberger, MD, MS, director of pediatric cardiology at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, blamed poor nutrition choices as a primary factor for poor heart health in kids.

“Children are eating high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and not eating enough fruits,
vegetables, whole-grains, fish and other foods strongly associated with good heart health and a healthy body weight,” she said.

Steinberger added that prevention should be emphasized in order to set children up
for long-term health: “Instead of taking a wait-and-see approach by treating disease later
in adulthood, we should help children maintain the standards of ideal cardiovascular health that most children are born with.”

The report was published in Circulation (2016. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000441).

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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