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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 11:14 GMT
Children's heart health 'timebomb'
Children's diet is one area which needs addressing
Children's diet is one area which needs addressing
Children are at risk of a "time bomb" of ill heart health in later life because of their unhealthy lifestyles, according to campaigners.

The National Heart Forum has issued a series of recommendations aimed at improving children's health.

It is calling on the government to set a target that "every child born today should be able to live to at least the age of 65 free from avoidable coronary heart disease (CHD)".

The NHF says this goal is achievable, but only if there is effective action to tackle the root causes of poor short and long-term health among children and young people.


Children's health is far too important to leave to chance

Sir Alexandra Macara, National Heart Forum
The organisation says children as young as two can show signs of heart disease.

And it estimates that out of an average class of 30 pupils, two are likely to suffer a heart attack, 13 will become obese and three will die of diabetes - if current sedentary pastimes and diets "dominated chips, biscuits, crisps and sweets" continue.

Action

Recommendations included in the NHF's young@heart report include:

  • Minimum income standards so all families can afford a healthy lifestyle
  • Health promotion policies in schools
  • National targets for the quality and uptake of school meals
  • A national inquiry into the impact of adverts and promotions, particularly of food and tobacco on child and family health
  • Widening the availability of existing child health initiatives
  • Better training, standards and support for public health professionals working with children and families
  • Involving children and young people in policy making, nationally and locally.

The NSF highlight recent research, which showed that although death rates from CHD are falling, the number of people living with CHD is not falling.

It is estimated CHD costs the UK around 10 billion each year, 1.6 billion in costs to the NHS and another 8.5 billion in days lost to death, illness and care of people with the disease.

Poverty is a major factor in predisposing children to develop heart disease. They are more likely to smoke and eat a diet high in fat and low in fruit and vegetables - partly because of the cost.

The NHF suggests public health interventions could reduce the burden of avoidable heart disease and costs to the NHS by up to 30%.

Dangers for the young

Experts warn signs of heart disease can be found even in very young children.

David Wood, vice chairman of the NHF and professor of cardiovascular medicine at Charing Cross Hospital, London, said: "Atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries) has been found in children as young as two years old.

"By the age of 20, it may be present in as many as one in three young people."

He added: "Poor nutrition in early life, (especially while a baby is growing in the womb and during infancy) can cause irreversible damage to the developing heart.

"To protect the long term health of the next generation, it is vital that expectant mothers have enough money to afford a healthy diet that is adequate for themselves and their growing baby, and that mothers are encouraged and given support to breastfeed."

Sir Alexandra Macara, chairman of the NHF, said: "Children's health is far too important to leave to chance.

"There is a yawning gap in policy on child health. Under 16s make up one-fifth of the UK population, yet public health initiatives aimed at the young lack the priority and resources given to adult interventions."

He added: "A piece-meal approach must be replaced with Cabinet level commitment to tackle the social, environmental and economic determinants of ill health across all government departments which make a real difference in communities, schools and to commercial practices."

See also:

21 May 01 | Health
Children 'breakfast on junk food'
05 Jan 01 | Health
Childhood obesity soars in UK
14 Dec 98 | Health
The young risk their health
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