Food & Beverage Perspectives
91% of U.S. Kids Have Poor Diets; Heart Health at Risk

91% of U.S. Kids Have Poor Diets; Heart Health at Risk

Proactive strategies for promoting good heart health should begin at birth, however, most American children do not meet the American Heart Association’s definition of ideal childhood cardiovascular health, according to a new scientific statement published in the journal Circulation. In fact, approximately 91 percent of U.S. children have poor diets, which will negatively impact their cardiovascular health during their lifetime.

Proactive strategies for promoting good heart health should begin at birth, however, most American children do not meet the American Heart Association’s definition of ideal childhood cardiovascular health, according to a new scientific statement published in the journal Circulation. In fact, approximately 91 percent of U.S. children have poor diets, which will negatively impact their cardiovascular health during their lifetime.

According to the statement, a primary reason for so few children having ideal cardiovascular health is poor nutrition—children are eating high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and not eating enough healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and other foods strongly associated with good heart health and a healthy body weight.

In the U.S., despite recent declines in the prevalence among preschool-aged children, obesity among children is still too high. For children and adolescents aged two to 19 years, the prevalence of obesity has remained at about 17 percent and affects about 12.7 million children and adolescents for the past decade according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“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," said Julia Steinberger, M.D., M.S., lead author of the new statement, professor in pediatrics and director of pediatric cardiology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Seven key health factors and behaviors are used to determine whether a child’s cardiovascular health is ideal—not using tobacco products; maintaining a healthy body weight; getting at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity; and eating a healthy diet as well as having healthy cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

Data from a 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that children in the United States were not meeting most of the AHA’s definition of ideal cardiovascular health.

Nearly all children in the study—about 91 percent—scored poorly on diet measures. In fact, the study found that children 2 to 19 years old get the bulk of their daily calories from simple carbohydrates such as sugary desserts and beverages. Similarly, the level of physical activity was not enough to protect their hearts. Among children ages 6 to 11 years old, half of the boys and just over a third of the girls were active for the recommended 60 minutes or more per day. As children reached 16 to 19 years of age, the percentage meeting the recommended amount of physical activity decreased even further, to 10 percent in boys and 5 percent in girls.

Not surprisingly, the effects of poor diet and physical inactivity affected body weight. Among 2 to 5 year olds, about 10 percent were obese based on their body mass index (BMI). In the 12 to 19 year-old age group, the percentage of obesity soared to between 19 percent and 27 percent. Among these older children, the rate of cigarette smoking was surprisingly high. In fact, approximately one-third of 12 to 19 year-olds reported trying a cigarette.

The healthiest metric for children was blood pressure, with nearly all children in the ideal group. Most children also had ideal measurements for total blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels, however when compared with blood pressure, both of these categories had higher percentages of children with intermediate and poor measurements.

The new recommendations for ideal cardiovascular health in children are a companion to a similar set of guidelines for adults issued by the AHA in 2010. Together, the recommendations are key components of the AHA’s goal to reduce death and disability from cardiovascular disease and increase cardiovascular health by 20 percent by 2020.

Snacks are a staple to most kids’ diets, so formulating healthy snacks is critical. Looking for insight into the top snack categories and how the “functional food" space is crossing over into the snack aisle? Join us for the Bite Sized Satisfaction: Snacking to Better Health panel discussion on Friday, Oct. 7, at SupplySide West 2016.

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