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Understanding little hearts

June 17th, 2015


Understanding little hearts

Children have pure hearts, but this, unfortunately, does not mean they are immune to heart disease.

A healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and nutritious food habits should be developed at a young age.

There was a study on children’s coronary arteries conducted through autopsies and it was found, quite surprisingly, that arterial cholesterol build-up could be detected in children as young as 10 years old, and in particular, in those that had family members with abnormal cholesterol. This was not only true for those in Western countries, but also those in Thailand.

Narrowed artery disease is found in younger people. In the past, heart attacks only affected people aged about 40-60 years, but now even a 21-year-old can suffer a heart attack. This is a scary fact, because we’d all like to think we don’t have to worry about heart disease when we are young. As if we’re not worried enough about romantic heartaches!

In reality, children are at risk, and there are many factors that contribute to heart disease in young people.

Most risks of coronary heart disease start when you are young. These factors include a history of heart disease in the family, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise or inactive lifestyle, diabetes or high blood-sugar levels, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. As you can see, many of these factors can be avoided by leading a healthy lifestyle, such as quitting smoking, choosing the right food and staying active, instead of watching TV. And all of these should begin early in life.

The number of obese children in Thailand is on the rise, and it looks to continue that way for a while. Overweight people are three to five times more at risk of losing their life from a heart attack or a stroke before they turn 65, compared to those in the healthy weight range. Overweight children often grow up to be overweight adults, and it is harder to lose weight later on in life.

Parents should ensure children live in a smoke-free environment, eat right at home and school, avoid sugary snacks, drinks and fast food, spend limited time in front of the TV and computer, and spend more time doing physical activity.

Children who exercise, even if they stop earlier and start again when they are older, have a higher chance of continuing to exercise than those who did not exercise much in childhood _ these people tend to start, then go astray and give up.

Therefore, it is very important to make sure your children exercise, and parents should set a good example as well.

Whether you are a parent or just an older relative, if you have a child in your family, make sure they eat good food, exercise regularly, watch their weight and make sure every newborn is breastfed for at least six months.

Breastfed babies are stronger and less likely to be overweight.

Letting your child gain weight beyond a healthy point is harmful. If you think chubby kids are cute and want your child to stay chubby by not encouraging exercise, or focus too much on reading and going to tutoring schools, your child may have serious health problems when he or she is older, particularly with the heart and the brain.

Children who study hard might end up getting well-paid jobs in the future, but if they are unhealthy, the medical bills might exceed their pay.

Ensuring a healthy heart should start at a young age and family plays an important role in making it happen.

Children who watch TV more than four hours a day have a higher chance of being diabetic when they are older, compared to those who watch TV less than two hours a day.

By all means, it doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight when you’re older. As long as you are determined, you can do it. The only people who can’t lose weight are those who don’t even realise they are overweight or don’t realise the dangers of being overweight. It is more difficult to lose weight when you are older, so watch what you eat and get exercise when you are young.

I have a 40-year-old patient who is the first child of a typical Thai-Chinese family with five younger brothers and sisters. He always studied hard and was very good at school and university. He did not exercise and ate very unhealthy food. He did not like vegetables or fruit and preferred to spend little time eating, because he wanted to go back to study and play on his computer.

He later had success in his career and became a head of a department in a large government enterprise.

However, three months ago during a meeting he suddenly collapsed and had a heart attack _ his heart stopped.

Fortunately (or you may consider unfortunately), he was sent to a nearby hospital where his heart regained its rhythm. However, the blood and oxygen supply to his brain had been cut off so long that he now remains in a vegetative state receiving food from a tube in his stomach and breathing through a tube in his neck.

Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.


Do You Remember?
Diabetes and heart disease
Keep breathing

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