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Fruits, vegetables help cut heart risk

Children who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may be able to help ward off atherosclerosis in adulthood, a precursor of heart disease.

Fruits, vegetables help cut heart risk

Children who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may be able to help ward off atherosclerosis in adulthood, a precursor of heart disease.

According to another study, children as young as 9 years old may already be exhibiting health problems, such as high blood pressure, that put them at risk of heart disease as adults.

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque - a sticky substance consisting of fat, cholesterol, and other substances found in the blood - builds up inside the arteries, eventually narrowing and stiffening the arteries and leading to heart problems. It's a process that can take years, even decades, and this study shows that diet in childhood could help prevent it.

It is known that vegetable and fruit intake is good for health in general and for the heart in particular. Researchers looked at lifestyle factors and measured the pulse of 1,622 people in Finland. The participants ranged in age from 3 to 18 years when the study began and were followed for 27 years. The researchers also assessed pulse wave velocity - a measure of arterial stiffness.

It was found that those young people who ate fewer vegetables and fruits had higher pulse wave velocity, which meant stiffer arteries. But those who ate the most vegetables and fruits had a pulse wave 6 percent lower than people who ate fewer fruits and vegetables. Because arterial stiffness is linked with atherosclerosis, rigid arteries make the heart work harder to pump blood. Besides low fruit and vegetable consumption, other lifestyle factors such as lack of physical activity and smoking in childhood were associated with pulse wave strength in adulthood.

The above findings suggest that a lifetime pattern of low consumption of fruits and vegetables is related to arterial stiffness in young adulthood. Therefore, parents must encourage children to consume high amounts of fruits and vegetables. While it is never too late to use a healthy diet to prevent heart disease, it is certainly never too early. The best way to cultivate healthy blood vessels in adults is to feed children well.

In the second study, researchers collected data on 4,380 participants in four studies that looked at heart disease risk factors in children and carotid artery thickness in adulthood.

It was found that children as young as 9 years who had the most risk factors for heart disease - including high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure and a greater body mass index - faced a 37 percent higher risk of thicker carotid artery walls as adults, an early sign of heart disease as compared to other children. Cardiovascular risk factors measured at or after the age of 9 years were predictive of vascular changes in adults. Of the individual risk factors, childhood obesity was the most consistently associated with vascular changes across different age groups. By the age of 12 years, children in the highest heart disease risk factor group had a 48 percent higher risk of thicker carotid arteries. This risk rose to 56 percent by 15 years.

Therefore prevention of atherosclerosis should start in childhood. All efforts should be made to keep our children fit, not fat.
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