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Are Your Children Growing Plaque in Their Arteries?

by Dr. Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP

What You Should Know About Vaccines and Neurological DamageYes, we worry about our children’s safety while they play outside. Did they do all their homework? Did they finish dinner? The bottom line is that being a parent is tough work. I know because over the years, my wife and I have fretted plenty over our two sons. Now, I want you to ask yourself something more serious. Do you ever think of how they are aging on the inside? Are our children growing plaque in their arteries?

Several scientific articles in recent yearshave startled mein recent years. The first was a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicineshowing that today’s children are projected to have a shorter lifespan than my own generation and even my parent’s generation. The second article from a research group in Los Angeles showed that when arterial plaque was measured in obese adolescents, the average child had an arterial plaque score of someone in their mid-40s. Several other studies have showed similar findings. This means that overweight children had mostly doubled their arterial plaque age, some long before they were old enough to vote.

So as a concerned parent, physician, and nutritionist, I conducted my own study to see if I got the same results. I used an ultrasound device (carotid IMT testing as I do on most adults in my clinic) to measure the arterial plaque score of adolescent children (ages 15-21) I have seen over time. Of the children seen in my clinic who were obese by height and weight criteria, the average child had the arterial plaque of a 42 year old adult. This means these children have aged their arteries at more than twice the normal rate.To me, this shows that unhealthy aspects of our culture are potentially killing our children.

Because it’sunrealistic for all parents to have this type of artery ultrasound testing, in our clinic we have identified lifestyle factors that predict arterial plaque age and arterial plaque growth. So how can you predictif your children are plaque free, or plaque producing? Your answersto the following four questionswill give you a good idea of how they’re faring:

  1. Is your child active?To be active, children need at least one hour of moderate to intense activity daily, the equivalent of walking fast for at least 3-5 miles. The bottom line for them is, “Do you huff, puff, and sweat for an hour every day?”
  2. Does your child get enough fiber?Use the fiber table toolsonline,http://pediatrics.about.com/od/nutrition/a/0806_high_fiber.htm or with the table in The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up, to calculate fiber content in thefood they eat every day. The usual recommendation from the Academy of Pediatrics is that kids should eat about 14grams (g) of fiber for every 1,000 calories they consume. So older kids who needmore calories should also get more fiber in their diets.
    1. Some general guidelines for fiber recommendations for kids include:
  • 1 to 3 year olds should get about 19g of fiber each day
  • 4 to 8 year olds should get about 25g of fiber each day
  • 9- to 13-year-olds should get about 25-30 g of fiber each day
  • Over 13, 30+ g of fiber each day
  1. Does your child eat enough vegetables and fruits?Of the fiber eaten, at least half should come from fruits and vegetables (but white potatoes don’t count).
  2. Is your child at an appropriate weight? Typically when your child gets a check-up, thedoctor measures height and weight, and calculates a body-mass index (BMI) score. Anything above the 75th percentile for BMI is likely overweight. Many medical groups allow up to the 85th percentile, which is generous in today’s world. For a tool to calculate your child’s BMI percentile, please visit: http://pediatrics.about.com/cs/usefultools/l/bl_bmi_calc.htm

Our clinical experience shows that if your childrenare active, get enough fiber (including their quota of vegetables and fruits), and are at an appropriate weight, their arterial plaque score should be totally normal. If not, ensure they receive the activity, fiber, and produce they need.If they are overweight, be sure to cut out all the sugar in their diet(sugar, not fat, is the number one cause for heart disease—look for more cutting-edge info on sugar from me next week).Not only will making these changeshelp to ensure a healthy heart for you and your children, but theywill likely help to correct any weight issuesas well.

As I’m always looking for tools to help you, I recently came across an excellent children’s book written by physician colleague Edwin Lee MD and Jim Huth. Your Amazing Heart (IHM Publishing) puts the secrets of how to live an active, healthy life into children’s terms. I highly recommend it for your children.

Lastly, please check out the recipes in The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up. The recipes are created for families—they are delicious, easy-to-prepare with ingredients you can find in your local grocery store, and are designed with nutrients that will nourish your heart and soul.

I wish you and your family the very best of health!

Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP

References:

  1. Davis PH, Dawson JD, Mahoney Lt, Lauer Rm. Increased Carotid Intimal-Medial Thickness And Coronary Calcification Are Related In Young And Middle-Aged Adults. The Muscatine Study. Circulation 1999; 100: 838–842.
  2. Tuzcu EM, Kapadia SR, Tutar E, Ziada KM, Hobbs RE, McCarthy Pm, Young JB, Nissen SE. High Prevalence Of Coronary Atherosclerosis In Asymptomatic Teenagers And Young Adults: Evidence From Intravascular Ultrasound. Circulation 2001; 103: 2705–2710.
  3. Homma S, Hirose N, Ishida H, Ishii T, Araki G. Carotid Plaque And Intima-Media Thickness Assessed By B-Mode Ultrasonography In Subjects Ranging From Young Adults To Centenarians. Stroke 2001; 32: 830–835.

For more information and a special report from Dr. Masley, click here.

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