Question of the Week

February 5, 2007


While millions of people enjoyed snacks that ranged from heart healthy vegetables to unhealthy fried foods of all sorts this past Sunday [February 4, 2007], many who were watching the Superbowl were able to see a commercial about heart health.

"[T]he ad, titled 'Heart Attack,' carries its cautionary message lightly.´┐ŻA man dressed like a big, red, briefcase-toting 'heart' is walking down the street when he's kidnapped by such villainous black-leathered risk factors as high blood pressure, diabetes, weight problems and high cholesterol. They beat him up in an alley. 'Is your heart at risk of an attack?' the narrator says in directing viewers to the Web site for a six-question quiz on the chances of a heart attack or stroke."

The actor playing the role of the "heart" in the ad appears to be a white man with graying hair (a picture is available at the above site).

"Staying away from high-fat, high-cholesterol foods isn't just a warning for adults to heed. A new study of teen-agers found one-third of them had increased their heart disease risk factors with junk food diets that could lead to high blood pressure and clogged arteries as they grow older. ... More than 80 percent of them consumed higher than recommended levels of total and saturated fat, while dietary cholesterol was excessive in 49 percent. Cholesterol levels were considered abnormally high for the age in one-third of the participants, and approximately one in 10 had systolic hypertension, a form of high blood pressure. ..."

Ten percent (1 in 10) of the teens had already developed a form of high blood pressure....

While teens are often warned to watch what they eat and take care of their bodies to avoid potential health problems later in life, more and more the health problems are not waiting until later in life to develop, and the damage to their bodies is observable now.

"To compare high-risk teens with their healthy counterparts, researchers used ultrasound to measure the thickness of the neck's primary artery, the carotid artery. Teens with the thickest artery walls were likely to be those who were overweight or had high blood pressure or high cholesterol..."

Other diseases that used to be seen only in adults are now becoming more common in teens -- and even in children.

"Type 2 diabetes used to occur mainly in adults who were overweight and ages 40 and older. Now, as more children and adolescents in the United States become overweight and inactive, type 2 diabetes is occurring more often in young people. Type 2 diabetes is more common in certain racial and ethnic groups such as African Americans, American Indians, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and some Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. The increased incidence of type 2 diabetes in youth is a 'first consequence' of the obesity epidemic among young people, a significant and growing public health problem. Overweight children are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes during childhood, adolescence, and later in life."

It used to be that children and teens were only immediately affected by the heart health issues with which they were born.

"A congenital heart defect is a structural problem (or defect) in the heart that is present at birth. A baby's heart begins to develop shortly after conception. During development, structural defects can occur. These defects can involve the walls of the heart, the valves of the heart, and the arteries and veins near the heart. Congenital heart defects can disrupt the normal flow of blood through the heart. ... Congenital heart defect is the most common type of major birth defect. Each year, more than 30,000 babies in the United States are born with congenital heart defects."

Thousands of children and teens have lives that are affected by congenital heart defects. Thousands more are living with preventable diseases that affect their hearts on a daily basis.

"High blood pressure (hypertension) in children is not a congenital heart disease, but it can have a hereditary link. For that reason, children born into families with a history of high blood pressure need to have their blood pressure watched with special care. Most cases of high blood pressure in children are usually the result of another disease, like heart or kidney disease. This is called secondary hypertension. Less often, children have what is called primary (or essential) hypertension. This means that the real cause of the high blood pressure is not known."

Heredity plays a role in heart disease risk factors, as do lifestyle choices. Even if people do not develop high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes in their childhood or teenage years, they could still being damaging their health.

"There is compelling evidence that the atherosclerosis (ath"er-o-skleh-RO'sis) (fatty deposits of plaque in artery walls) or its precursors´┐Żbegins in childhood and progresses slowly into adulthood. Then it often leads to coronary heart disease, the single largest cause of death in the United States."

Questions of the Week:
What do you need to know about your heart disease risk factors as a teen? What do children and young adults need to know? How does this compare with what older adults need to know? What do you need to know about other health issues that surround heart disease (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc) -- and can damage the heart? What do your friends and family members know about these health issues? What should they know? What is the best way to educate people about heart health issues -- and the lifestyle choices they should be making with regards to these health issues?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions. Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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