Most U.S. children and adults have poor scores for heart health, according to a new assessment tool called "Life's Essential 8."
Fewer than 30% of 2- to 19-year-olds had high scores for cardiovascular health on the new American Heart Association scoring tool. And their scores got lower with age. Just 14% of 12- to 19-year-olds had high scores, compared to 33% of 6- to 11-year-olds and 56% of kids between 2 and 5, the analysis found.
"We found that among U.S. children, scores were lowest for the diet metric, which is comparable to what we saw in adults," said senior author Dr. Amanda Marma Perak, a cardiologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
"Life's Essential 8" evaluates heart health on eight components: sleep time; diet; physical activity; nicotine exposure; blood lipids; blood sugar; blood pressure; and body mass index (BMI), an estimate of body fat based on height and weight.
Researchers stacked those benchmarks against nationwide health and nutrition survey data for the years 2013 to 2018. The data included more than 13,500 adults and nearly 9,900 kids.
Marma Perak, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in heart health.
"Individuals and families who improve their eating patterns can markedly improve their total cardiovascular health, even independent of weight change," she said. "In addition to families' efforts to improve, we also need policy-level support for better diets, such as subsidies for fruit and vegetable production or making healthier foods more readily available and removing sugar-sweetened beverage options in schools."
Maintaining better heart health at all ages is associated with favorable health outcomes, said Marma Perak, who was also the pediatric expert for the American Heart Association Presidential Advisory that redefined the concept of cardiovascular health (CVH) through the new measures.
"Children with high CVH have lower burdens of subclinical cardiovascular disease in mid-life. And for children who manage to maintain high CVH into late adolescence or young adulthood, their risk for premature clinical cardiovascular disease events over the next 30 years is extremely low," Marma Perak said. "Ultimately, the new measures of CVH will allow clinicians and scientists to track changes with more precision so that they can intervene earlier and set kids on a healthier path into adulthood."
The findings were published June 29 in the journal Circulation.
The World Health Organization has more on cardiovascular diseases.
SOURCE: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, news release, June 29, 2022