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A decline in female heart health

Last Modified: 1/06/2020

Decline in female heart health

This post was written by Sabeena Ramrakhiani, MD, PPG – Cardiology.

The age-old idiom, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” could not be more appropriate when it comes to heart health in women. According to preliminary research presented at the 2019 American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, there’s been a decline in cardiovascular health in females. The greatest cardiovascular decline is evident in girls between the ages of 9 and 19 years old, and predominantly in the African American population and in the lower education and socioeconomic statuses.

The Gooding Study

In a study headed by Dr. Gooding, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, the cardiovascular health score in teenagers was defined by seven key factors, often referred to as Life’s Simple 7, which include:

  • Diet
  • Exercise (at least 60 min per day for teens)
  • Refraining from tobacco use
  • Abstaining from alcohol
  • Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI)
  • Sustaining a healthy blood pressure
  • Maintain healthy cholesterol levels

During Gooding’s study, participants were categorized into one of three categories: ideal, intermediate or poor. These classifications were based on a composite score of risk factors along with their age of menstruation and teenage pregnancy. About 20%, or 1 in 5 girls, entered young adulthood with low cardiovascular health which is defined as having less than half of the seven health factors.

Risk factors

Depression –  An emerging risk factor for cardiovascular health, depression is often associated with reduced physical activity levels, a poor diet, and may be associated with alcohol and tobacco abuse. Your mood also affects your heart health. With the multitude of stressors currently afflicting our teens, rates of depression and anxiety are on the rise, further degrading their cardiovascular health.

Pregnancy and Menarche – Teen pregnancy and the onset of menstruation before the age of 12 are also associated with reduced cardiac health. On average, African American girls began menstruating a year earlier than their Caucasian peers and a greater percentage of them began menstruation before the age of 12.

Obesity – Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are more prevalent than ever with youth spending more time on devices and in front of screens. Nearly 24 million children between the ages of 2 and 19 years have a high body mass index (BMI) and 15% of our adolescents are not getting the recommended 60 minutes of exercise per day. Based on 2015 data, adolescent girls are more likely than boys to be physically inactive (19% versus 11%).

Taking action

Move and motivate to move.  Being physically active has tremendous health benefits, regardless of your age. The American Heart Association recommends kids and teens get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Active kids have better bone health, better heart and brain health, lower stress levels, less distracting classroom behavior, better attendance and academic performance. We should serve as role models and encourage our children to be physically active.

Avoid harmful substances.  With tobacco use on the rise, so are other addicting behaviors such as vaping. We need to encourage our kids and teens to “say no the first time, every time”.

Provide smart sustenance.  As adults, we must provide healthy snacks and foods to children and teens while teaching them to engage in healthy eating habits. By combining healthy eating habits and physical activity, they are more likely to stay within a healthy BMI range and avoid swaying toward either end of the spectrum.

Our adolescents are our future and we need to do better to help them improve their cardiac health. Decades ago, when we first realized the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, we transitioned from treating the existing disease to treating the risk factors. Today, we must go a step further to ensure our children avoid those risk factors altogether and stop the decline of their cardiac health. Let’s give them the tools they need to ward off cardiovascular disease before it starts.

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