Acquired Heart Disease in Childhood

Dr Victor Grech MD MRCP PhD

Developed countries are experiencing an overwhelming epidemic of childhood obesity. This is related to poor diet and lack of exercise.

Children should only eat healthy food and should not be forced to overeat. Read food labels to ensure that the food that you are serving your children is not excessively high in calories, fats and carbohydrate. The following foods should feature prominently in all our diets: fruit, vegetables, whole grains such as cereals and breads, beans, and fish. All of these foodstuffs are low in cholesterol. Lean meat, fish and skinless chicken should take precedence over other types of meats. One should also avoid fats in cooking: grill or bake - do not fry - and substitute margerine for oil. Avoid soft drinks, fruit drinks, and low-fat snacks. These provide calories but supply no essential nutrients. Switch snacks away from biscuits, packets and crackers to fruits, raw vegetables such as baby carrots. The best snacks are apple slices, orange sections and fruit stirred into nonfat yogurt. Children who are fat benefit from low-fat dairy products such as skimmed milk or low-fat yogurt. But don't overdo it. Allow some free eating at birthday parties and school events.

Exercise is extremely important. Regular aerobic exercise, such as biking, running, walking, and swimming not only burns calories but also reduces cholesterol levels. Exercise combined with a healthy diet helps prevent obesity. Remember that children who are overweight tend to become adults with diabetes and hypertension and are three to five times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke before they reach the age of 65.

Children also compromise their hearts by actively smoking. In addition, it is calculated that almost half of all the children worldwide are subjected to passive smoke as they live in the home of a smoker. Children who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke will suffer from the diseases of active smokers and have a 25% increased risk of developing both lung cancer and heart disease and an 80% increased risk of suffering a stroke.

October 2004