Most American children fall short when it comes to heart health, claims a new scientific statement published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
The statement cited a 2007-08 study showing that roughly 91 per cent of American children have poor diets filled with simple carbohydrates, and that too few children get enough exercise.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention for the past few decades, said Dr David L Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in Derby.
Although there have been many campaigns - most notably by First Lady Michelle Obama - to end childhood obesity, ''We're bailing out a sinking boat with an eye dropper while it's being flooded by a fire hose,'' Katz said. ''We're not doing nearly enough and this (report) is a reminder that we're not doing nearly enough.''
The American Heart Association report sets new recommendations for ideal cardiovascular health in children. The measures include 60 minutes of exercise a day, not smoking, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. The recommendations are a companion to a similar set of guidelines for adults issued by the American Heart Association in 2010.
In a news release, the statement's lead author Julia Steinberger said poor diet is largely to blame for children's compromised cardiovascular health.
''Children are eating high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and not eating enough healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and other foods strongly associated with good heart health and a healthy body weight,'' Steinberger said.
Obesity is clearly an issue among young people: The report shows that 19 to 27 per cent of 12 to 19 year olds were obese. Even the youngest children aren't immune. The report also found that 10 per cent of those aged 2 to 5 were obese.
One issue is that children have too many choices when it comes to food, said Dr. Madhu Mathur, a pediatrician and board-certified obesity medicine physician affiliated with Stamford Hospital. Part of the solution is for parents not to make unhealthy foods readily available to their kids.
''You don't keep ice cream in the freezer and tell them they can't eat it,'' she said. ''Choices should be limited and they should be healthy.''
The American Heart Association report also showed that among children 6 to 11 years old, one-half of the boys and just over one-third of the girls got at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Among kids age 16 to 19, only 10 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls were active for at least 60 minutes a day.
In today's technology-heavy society, it makes sense that so few youths get off their behinds and get moving, said Dr Kieve Berkwits, a pediatric cardiologist based at the Yale-New Haven Pediatric Speciality Center in Trumbull. Parents can't even count on gym classes to provide their children with the amount of exercise they need, Berkwits said.
''I've had kids tell me they don't do anything in gym class,'' he said.
Although Katz is skeptical about moving the needle on pediatric heart health, he hopes the American Heart Association report will be a wake-up call.
''It's a serious issue, and until we take it seriously, nothing's going to change,'' he said.