MONDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Children who eat a diet rich
in fruits and vegetables may be able to help ward off
atherosclerosis in adulthood, a precursor of heart disease, a new
And a second new study found that children as young as 9 years
old may already be exhibiting health problems such as high blood
pressure that put them at risk of heart disease as adults.
Both reports, from researchers in Finland, are published in the
Nov. 29 online edition of
Commenting on the first study, Dr. David L. Katz, director of
the Yale University School of Medicine's Prevention Research
Center, who was not involved with the study, noted that it had
taken knowledge about diet and heart health a step further.
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque -- a sticky
substance consisting of fat, cholesterol, and other substances
found in the blood -- builds up inside the arteries, eventually
narrowing and stiffening the arteries and leading to heart
problems. It's a process that can take years, even decades, and
this study shows that diet even in childhood -- helps prevent the
condition, Katz said.
"We certainly, before this study, knew that vegetable and fruit intake were good for our health in general, and good for cardiovascular health in particular," he said.
For the first study, researchers led by Dr. Mika Kahonen, chief
physician in the Department of Clinical Physiology at Tampere
University Hospital in Finland, looked at lifestyle factors and
measured the pulse of 1,622 people who took part in the
Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. The participants ranged
in age from 3 to 18 when the study began and were followed for 27
The researchers also assessed "pulse wave velocity" -- a measure
of arterial stiffness.
The researchers found that those young people who ate fewer
vegetables and fruits had higher pulse wave velocity, which means
stiffer arteries. But those who ate the most vegetables and fruits
had a pulse wave 6 percent lower than people who ate fewer fruits
Because arterial stiffness is linked with atherosclerosis, rigid
arteries makes the heart work harder to pump blood.
Besides low fruit and vegetable consumption, other lifestyle
factors such as lack of physical activity and smoking in childhood
was associated with pulse wave strength in adulthood, the
"These findings suggest that a lifetime pattern of low consumption of fruits and vegetables is related to arterial stiffness in young adulthood," Kahonen said in a news release from the American Heart Association, which publishes Circulation. "Parents and pediatricians have yet another reason to encourage children to consume high amounts of fruits and vegetables."
"While it is never too late to use a healthful diet to prevent heart disease, it is certainly never too early," Katz said. "The best way to cultivate healthy blood vessels in adults, it seems, is to feed our children well."
In the second study, Finnish researchers found that children as
young as 9 who had the most risk factors for heart disease --
including high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure and a
greater body mass index -- faced a greater risk of thicker carotid
artery walls as adults, an early sign of heart disease.
"Cardiovascular risk factors measured at or after the age of 9 are predictive of vascular changes in adults," said lead researcher Dr. Markus Juonala, an adjunct professor at Turku University Hospital in Finland.
"Of the individual risk factors, childhood obesity was the most consistently associated with vascular changes across different age groups," he said.
Prevention of atherosclerosis should start in childhood, Juonala
said, adding, "We should make all efforts to keep our kids fit, not
For the study, Juonala's team collected data on 4,380
participants in four studies that looked at heart disease risk
factors in children and carotid artery thickness in adulthood.
They found that children as young as 9 years old who had the
most risk factors for heart disease had a 37 percent increased risk
of thicker carotid arteries -- which supply oxygen-rich blood to
the head and neck -- in adulthood, compared with other
By age 12, children in the highest heart disease risk factor
group had a 48 percent increased risk of thicker carotid arteries.
This risk rose to 56 percent by 15, the researchers noted.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Gregg Fonarow, American Heart
Association spokesman and professor of cardiology at the University
of California, Los Angeles, said "atherosclerotic vascular disease
can begin early in childhood and adolescence but becomes clinically
manifest later in life."
This study provides insights into the early development of
vascular disease and has important implications for prevention
efforts in children, he said.
"There is currently an important, but largely unmet, need to prevent and reverse cardiovascular risk factors in childhood," Fonarow said.
For more on atherosclerosis, visit the
American Heart Association.