Heart Healthy Children = Heart Healthy Adults

February 23, 2005

Madeline Vann
Phone: 504-247-1425

Children who have very healthy levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, weight and cholesterol are likely to become heart-healthy adults, say Tulane University researchers. The data, drawn from 1474 participants in the Bogalusa Heart Study over two decades, were published in a recent issue of Diabetes Care.

"Parents can think of keeping their children healthy as a long-term investment in their lifelong health," says cardiologist Gerald Berenson, principal investigator of the Bogalusa Heart Study. "We have known for a while that children who are overweight or have high blood pressure are likely to carry those problems into adulthood. This research shows that children who have healthy levels of the health factors that make up metabolic syndrome have a reduced risk of heart disease in adulthood."

Metabolic syndrome, also known as syndrome X, is diagnosed if a patient shows a cluster of symptoms: fat around the waistline, high blood pressure, low levels of HDL "good" cholesterol, high fasting blood sugar levels and high triglycerides. If a person has three or more of these signs, they are at higher risk of developing diabetes mellitus and heart disease, as well as kidney disease.

According to study data, close to 13 percent of the adults in the Bogalusa Heart Study have metabolic syndrome, Berenson says. Prior research results from the Bogalusa Heart Study demonstrated that when risk factors for metabolic syndrome and heart disease are present in childhood, related health problems such as high blood pressure, hardened arteries, heart disease and diabetes are more likely to occur in adulthood.

These results show that the reverse is also true: for the one in 10 children who had very favorable levels of the factors that make up metabolic syndrome, those measures were similarly low in adulthood. Keeping those risk factors low throughout a person's life reduces the risk of all forms of heart disease, many cancers and other chronic health problems. Berenson notes that an additional benefit is reduced health care costs for both children and adults.

Authors include senior author epidemiologist Wei Chen, Berenson and epidemiologists Sathanur Srinivasan, Shengxu Li and Jihua Xu. The Bogalusa Heart Study is the longest-running, biracial, community-based study of heart disease risk factors beginning in childhood in the world. Since its inception in 1973, Berenson and his staff have screened over 16,000 adults and children in the Bogalusa area in an effort to understand heart disease risk factors over the lifespan.

Children who began the study in the 1970s while they were in elementary school are now adults who continue to participate in the screening process. Moving from a pediatric study, the investigators now are studying aging. Funding for the research comes from the National Institutes on Aging and Heart, Lung and Blood.

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