Thursday, October 03, 2002

For a healthy heart, get an early start

By John Reina
Gannett News Service and The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Here's a little quiz for anyone following the Bob Huggins news this week: At what age can a person first show signs of heart disease?

        a.) 18

        b.) 13

        c.) 8

        d.) 3

        If you said “d,” raise a glass of low-fat milk and go to the head of the class; heart disease can start at a surprisingly young age.

        The 49-year-old University of Cincinnati basketball coach, who suffered a massive heart attack Saturday in Pittsburgh, has a family history of cardiovascular disease.

        Coronary heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States, causing about 525,000 deaths a year.

        Dr. Christine L. Williams, director of the Children's Cardiovascular Health Center at Columbia University in New York, and other pediatric heart specialists say the number can be reduced if healthy lifestyles early in childhood.

        Te American Heart Association recently published new guidelines for doctors that emphasize education and information on healthy heart habits for young patients and their families.

        Among the recommendations:

        • Get a family history of heart disease and stroke when the child is still a newborn.

        • Between the ages of 2 and 6, begin cholesterol screening for children whose parents have high cholesterol.

        • Start checking the child's blood pressure at age 3.

        • Encourage active physical play and discourage sedentary behavior.

        “By kindergarten, it's nice to know which children have a tendency to be on the high-risk side,” says Dr. Williams. “With a lot of them, all you might have to do is switch them to low-fat dairy products.”

        Dr. Hugh Allen, physician-in-chief at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio, says “you might think of this as an immunization. If we know there are environmental factors associated with the disease, and we can develop lifestyle changes that will affect it later in life, that is certainly an effective approach.”


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