THURSDAY, Dec. 30 (HealthDayNews) -- More kids are heading toward heart trouble, the American Heart Association reported Thursday in its annual assessment of cardiovascular disease, the top killer in the United States.
In 2002, the latest year covered by the AHA's annual report, 927,448 Americans died of cardiovascular disease, which includes high blood pressure, heart attacks, chest pains known as angina, congestive heart failure, stroke, and congenital heart defects.
The report shows that cardiovascular disease is actually on the decline, slightly. But for the first time, it includes a section on youth and their risk factors for heart disease, and that's on the rise.
About 1 million Americans between 12 and 19 years old, or about 4.2 percent, now have metabolic syndrome, which is a host of controllable risk factors for heart disease such as abnormal blood lipids, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and overweight or obesity.
The new statistics on metabolic syndrome in youth have a "sense of urgency," according to Dr. Robert Eckel, president-elect of the AHA and an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. The new statistics, he said, represent a reminder that we are "looking at a future generation of heart disease patients" if measures are not taken to stem the rising rate of risk factors in youth.
The latest statistics reflect good and bad news, said Dr. Christopher O'Donnell, associate director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Framingham Heart Study and chairman of the AHA's statistics committee.
"Overall, cardiovascular disease rates are declining, slowly," he said. "What's alarming is the rise in very young patients with metabolic syndrome. Cardiovascular disease takes 20 to 30 years to develop."
If the trends in youth risk factors for heart disease continue, O'Donnell said, "that would impede our progress in lowering cardiovascular disease rates."
O'Donnell and Eckel agreed that parents need to pay closer attention to their children's health to prevent them from developing metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome in adolescence is defined as having at least three of the following abnormalities: blood triglyceride level of 110 milligrams per deciliter or higher, high-density lipoprotein (HDL, the "good" cholesterol) of 40 milligrams per deciliter or lower; elevated blood sugar of 110 milligrams per deciliter or higher; blood pressure that is deemed high for age; and waist circumference that is high for age and gender.
The most common risk factor found in children with metabolic syndrome is being overweight, according to the heart association.
"Parents ought to be speaking with their pediatrician about their children's risk factors, including weight and blood pressure, and their nutrition," O'Donnell said.
"Kids must take responsibility for what they put into their mouths and what they do with their feet," Eckel added. Parents should be encouraging children to eat nutritiously and to exercise, he said.
"We'd like to see parents put more emphasis on diet," Eckel said, which includes monitoring fast-food intake.
They can also increase chores around the house so children will be more active and encourage them to take part in school programs that involve physical activity, he added.
To learn more about preventing overweight in children, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.