New research suggests it’s never too early to learn healthy eating and exercise habits to reduce the future risk of heart problems.
How early? As young as 3 years old, researchers say.
“There is a need for a complete change in the timing of when we deliver care,” senior study author Dr. Valentin Fuster, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said in a news release from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
“Until now, the clinical community has focused on cardiovascular disease, which typically manifests in the later stages of life. Now, we need to focus our care in the opposite stage of life — we need start promoting health at the earliest years, as early as 3 to 5 years old, in order to prevent cardiovascular disease,” Fuster said.
Past research has shown that poor eating habits at a young age can lead to heart disease later in life, and that certain types of heart disease can begin as early as age 3, the researchers said.
In this study, the researchers introduced a heart-healthy lifestyle program for more than 2,000 children. The kids were between the ages of 3 and 5. All attended schools in Madrid.
The program focused on diet, exercise, managing emotions and an understanding of the body. It included classroom materials and take-home activities for students to do with their families, and activities associated with the schools’ annual health fairs.
The children were followed for up to three years. Those in the program showed better knowledge about a heart-healthy lifestyle, attitudes and habits. They were also slightly less likely to be overweight or obese than those who weren’t in the program, the study found.
“It may not only be the cardiovascular health information from the program that is helpful but also the [intellectual] stimulation from and exposure to positive adult role models, which in turn influence personality traits critical for health behavior and habits,” Dr. Deepak Bhatt wrote in an accompanying editorial in the Sept. 28 issue of the journal.
Bhatt is executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health outlines how to reduce heart risks.