UK HealthCare

Obesity in Childhood Can Lead to Heart Disease in Later Life

Photo of Morgan Chojnacki, Doctor of Nursing Practice at UK's Pediatric High BMI Clinic
Morgan Chojnaki is a Doctor of Nursing Practice at UK's Pediatric High BMI Clinic

One in every four adult deaths in the US is from heart disease, and a large proportion of that staggering statistic is related to obesity from unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. In Kentucky, 32-44% of adults are obese. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, perhaps we should shift the focus from reacting to poor health choices in adulthood to preventing poor health outcomes in children by tackling childhood obesity. Kentucky is a great place to start that prevention, because 34% of our school age children are obese.

How does obesity lead to heart disease?

Obesity is normally caused by overconsumption of refined carbohydrates, sugars and fats. Fat in foods such as red meats, egg yolks, and butter turns into low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. Starchy foods such as lightly colored breads, cereals, and pastas and high sugar foods and drinks turn into triglycerides in the blood. Both of these types of cholesterol build up in the arteries, causing the arteries to narrow and blood flow is subsequently decreased. Low blood flow equals low oxygen flow, and without oxygen, portions of muscles such as the heart die. 

How do I know if my child is overweight or obese? 

Have a conversation with your child’s pediatrician about this at his/her next appointment. Pediatric obesity is when a child’s body mass index (BMI) is at or above the 95th percentile, and being overweight is defined as BMI 85th-94th percentile. 

Don’t know where to get started? 

Use the 5-2-1-0 plan!  Encourage your child to the following each day

  • Eat 5 servings fruits and vegetables
  • Limit screen time to 2 hours or less
  • Be active for 1 or more hours
  • Drink 0 sugar sweetened beverages (soda, sports drinks, sweet tea)

Make healthy choices easier by limiting access to unhealthy foods and behaviors in your home. Use encouraging words and positive reinforcement when you see your child making healthy choices.  Avoid negative talk or punishment for making unhealthy choices as these tactics have been shown to be ineffective. 

Need more structured help?

Many factors affect our ability to make healthier choices, and sometimes families need more one-on-one, structured help to achieve weight loss. The team of pediatricians, nurse practioners, registered dieticians and staff at the Pediatric High BMI Clinic at Kentucky Children's Hospital can help children who are overweight/obese and need help reducing their BMI and preventing poor health outcomes such as heart disease, hypertension, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and sleep apnea. Talk to your child's pediatrician about preventing and treating these conditions and how to help your child make healthy choices.

Morgan Chojnaki is a Doctor of Nursing Practice at UK's Pediatric High BMI Clinic