Most people only think of middle-aged adults or the elderly as being affected by heart disease. Children are usually thought of as having healthy hearts. Yet, nine out of every 1,000 babies born in the US are born with a congenital heart abnormality. Several studies suggest that in order to prevent death in the first year of life, 2.3 per 1,000 live births require some sort of invasive treatment for a congenital heart defect. Nearly one million people living in the US were born with a congenital heart defect.
Risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular diseases, such as smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, and high cholesterol levels often begin at an early age. In 2005, 25 percent to 30 percent of students in grades 9-12 reported current tobacco use. Approximately 10 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 19 have total cholesterol levels greater than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Over 9 million children ages 6 to 19 are considered overweight, and they have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults.
Some heart problems experienced by children, such as most cases of congenital (present at birth) heart defects, can be treated medically or surgically, but cannot be prevented.
However, heart-healthy living habits started at an early age - sensible eating, keeping cholesterol levels low, getting regular exercise, refraining from smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight - greatly diminish the risks of other cardiovascular problems such as stroke, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease developing in adulthood. Heart-healthy living is very important for children born with heart defects to prevent complications from medical and surgical treatments that may be required throughout adolescence and adulthood.