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Key Facts about Heart Disease

Kids and Heart Disease: The Heart of the Matter

Know Your Fats

The American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee strongly advises these fat guidelines for healthy Americans over age 2:

  • Limit total fat intake to less than 25–35 percent of your total calories each day;
  • Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total daily calories;
  • Limit trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of total daily calories;
  • The remaining fat should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils; and
  • Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day, for most people.  If you have coronary heart disease or your LDL cholesterol level is 100 mg/dL or greater, limit your cholesterol intake to less than 200 milligrams a day.

Source: The American Heart Association

Tobacco is the #1 preventable risk
Did you know . . .

  • Smokers have 2-6 times the risk of sudden cardiac death than non-smokers. The risk is higher for heavy smokers.
  • Second-hand smoke increases cardiac risk.
  • The health benefits of quitting smoking begin immediately.
  • Many people who quit smoking successfully have tried and failed many times.

Talk to your healthcare provider about how to stop smoking. Nicotine replacement or prescription medications may be helpful. Call your local hospital or the American Lung Association and ask about low cost or free programs to help you or someone you care about stop smoking.

Frequently Asked Questions
About Heart Disease

What is heart disease?

Heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease, is the number one cause of death in the United States. Heart disease occurs when the arteries in the heart become narrowed and blocked due to fatty buildup (plaque), known as arteriosclerosis. This blockage in the arteries decreases the amount of blood and oxygen that can get to the heart and other vital organs and can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Source: American Heart Association

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Factors known to increase your chances of developing heart disease can be broken into two categories –– those that can be controlled (modified or treated) and those that cannot.

Risk factors you can control or treat include:

  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Excess body fat (overweight and obesity)
  • Tobacco use
  • Physical inactivity

Factors that you cannot change are:

  • Age (men and women age 65 and older are at increased risk of dying from heart disease)
  • Gender (Men are at greater risk over 45 years of age; women over 55 years of age.)
  • Race (African Americans are generally at higher risk for heart disease than Caucasians)
  • Family history (children with parents who have/had heart disease are at a greater risk than children whose parents have not had heart disease)

Source:American Heart Association
Source: NCEP- ATPIII Guidelines

What is saturated fat and how is it linked to heart disease?

Saturated fats are unhealthy fats that raise your LDL (or "bad") blood cholesterol level. Saturated fat is found mostly in foods that are of animal origin. Foods that are commonly high in saturated fat are fatty cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork), poultry with the skin, whole and 2% milk and milk products, butter, cheese, and lard. Foods from plant sources that are high in saturated fat include palm kernel oil, palm oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter. 

Of all the fats you can eat, saturated fat has the most influence on blood cholesterol levels. Eating too much saturated fat can cause cholesterol levels to go up, especially triglycerides, which lower HDL, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

What is trans fat and how is it linked to heart disease?

Trans fat is formed when liquid oils are made more solid through a process called partial hydrogenation. Essentially, hydrogenation is the process of making unsaturated fat more saturated. The process is used to increase the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats.

According to the FDA and leading health authorities, saturated and trans fats raise LDL (or "bad") cholesterol, raise triglycerides, and lower HDL (or "good") cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Dietary cholesterol also contributes to heart disease. Therefore, FDA states
"It is advisable to choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as part of a healthful diet."

Source: American Heart Association;

Why should parents be concerned about the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol their children eat?

Heart disease doesn’t happen overnight – it begins developing in early childhood and may not produce symptoms until adulthood. Over the years, fat and cholesterol can build up in the arteries, which can block the flow of blood to the heart and other vital organs. Eventually, these blockages can lead to poor circulation, heart attack, stroke, and even death.
Expert health organizations recommend that anyone over the age of two keep their saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol intakes low in order to prevent fat buildup in the arteries later in life.

What is a heart-healthy eating plan for my family?

A healthy eating plan is one that is good for the heart, helps in the prevention of chronic disease and controls body weight. In general, a diet that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables is recommended for anyone aged 2 and older. More specifically, the American Heart Association recommends eating less than 30 percent of total calories from fat, less than 10 percent of calories from saturated and less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day.

When comparing foods, look at the Nutrition Facts Panel, and choose the food with the lower amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of these nutrients as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.

Source: The American Heart Association;

How much exercise should my family be getting?

Leading health organizations recommend that adults be active for at least 30 minutes a day, while children and adolescents should aim for 60 minutes of daily activity. Exercise that increases the heart rate (called aerobic) can lower the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Not only can exercise lower total cholesterol levels, it can also raise the HDL (or “good”) cholesterol levels, lower triglycerides, and may reduce the LDL (or “bad”) levels. Exercise is also important for maintaining a healthy weight and for the development of strong bones.

According to the latest joint American Heart Association/American College of Sports Medicine guidelines on physical activity, all healthy adults ages 18–65 should be getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five days of the week.

Source: The American Heart Association;

Know Your Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Source: American Heart Association

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the number one killer of Americans. In general, more people die from heart disease than cancer, stroke, lung disease, or accidents combined. Even though these statistics seem grim, there is good news. Although some risk factors for heart disease are out of your (and your family's) control, many of the deaths caused by heart disease can be prevented.

Heart disease risk factors can be divided into two groups; those risk factors you have control over (or can treat) and those that you cannot change.

(NCHS. Compressed mortality file:underlying cause of death, 1979 to 2005; http://wonder.cdc.gov/mortSQL.html)

Controllable Risk Factors:

High Total and LDL ("Bad") Cholesterol: Too much LDL cholesterol circulating in your blood can lead to the formation of thick, hard deposits called plaque on the arteries, which bring blood to your heart and brain. Over time, this buildup can narrow the arteries and make you susceptible to blood clots that may result in a heart attack or stroke. One of the most important choices we can all make in helping to lower the levels of "bad" cholesterol circulating in our blood is to eat foods that provide the right amount and right type of fats. Reducing the amount of saturated fat in the diet is one of the primary goals in heart healthy eating, as saturated fat raises your unhealthy cholesterol levels.  Foods that are high in saturated fat (found in animal foods in general) are usually high in total fat and cholesterol as well. To help lower the saturated fat in the diet, choose:

Low HDL ("Good") Cholesterol: High levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with a lower risk for heart disease. Observational data has indicated that high levels are associated with lower risk of heart attacks, while low levels increase the risk. According to experts, HDL cholesterol helps transport cholesterol away from the arteries and out of the body. Regular physical activity has been shown to increase HDL levels in some people, while smoking and carrying excess weight can decrease HDL cholesterol. Substituting unhealthy fats in your diets with healthy fats found in vegetable oils, nuts and fish can help raise HDL levels, too.

Overweight and Obesity: Carrying around excess body fat puts a strain on the heart and can raise cholesterol levels in children and adults. Even small reductions in weight can lower cholesterol levels. When it comes to losing weight, there's no easy or quick solution. Instead of trying fad diets that have not been shown to work in the long term, it is better to focus on a heart-healthy eating plan that is reduced in calories. Remember that portion control and physical activity are also important. To learn more about how to make better choices for heart-health and weight control, check out these Tips for Families.

Physical Inactivity: Being physically inactive is as risky as having high total and LDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure or smoking cigarettes. Research has shown that even small amounts of physical activity throughout the day are helpful. Not only can exercise lower total cholesterol levels, it also has the ability to raise the HDL ("good") cholesterol levels, lower triglyceride levels, and may reduce the LDL ("bad") levels. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 and recommendations from other leading health organizations advise that adults and children engage in physical activity for 30 to 60 minutes, respectively, on most days of the week. As always, consult your family doctor or qualified health professional before beginning any exercise program. And remember, if you or your children are new to exercise, start slowly. Learn more about getting active.

High Blood pressure: High blood pressure makes the heart work harder and may eventually lead to stroke, heart disease, heart failure and several other diseases. Blood pressure usually increases with age but it can be controlled. To help keep blood pressure in check, there are several things the experts recommend:

At a Glance: Modifiable Risk Factors for Heart Disease:

  • Physical Inactivity
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Overweight and Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, Low HDL
  • Cigarette Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Diet high in saturated fat and calories and low in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains & fish

Work with your healthcare provider to reduce your risk

  • Avoid tobacco products and secondhand smoke
  • Have your blood pressure and cholesterol profile (and blood sugar if at risk for diabetes) measured
  • Follow your healthcare provider's advice to manage these with lifestyle changes and medication if needed
  • Eat a heart healthy diet – high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated fat and sodium
  • Exercise! Walking is ideal – Adults should exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week

Cigarette Smoking (and Secondhand Smoke): Smoking tobacco remains a major concern among health professionals. Not only can cigarette smoking cause fatty buildup in the arteries, it can increase blood pressure, lower HDL cholesterol, and make it harder to be physically active.

Risk Factors You Cannot Change:

Heredity: Family history of heart disease (including parents, siblings or offspring) is an indication that a person has an increased risk for developing heart disease. In fact, children of parents who have heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease later in life than children from families with no history of heart disease. However, recent research suggests that lifestyle and diet are important factors in reducing the development of heart disease in persons at risk due to family history.

Race: African-Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk for heart disease.

Age: The older one is, the greater the risk that symptoms of heart disease will emerge. Over 80 percent of those who die from CHD are 65 years or older.

Gender: Both men and women are at risk for having heart disease. In fact, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for women. Learn more about the unique risks women face when it comes to heart health.

If you or your family members are at a greater risk for heart disease due to any of the uncontrollable risk factors, it is even more important to focus on controllable risk factors by leading a heart-healthy lifestyle and eating a heart-healthy diet.

Know Your Numbers (All Of Them!)

Beginning at age 20, all adults should have a cholesterol (lipid) profile done. The best test is a fasting test where you will receive all 4 numbers. You can also have a non-fasting test that will only check your cholesterol and HDL levels. Ask your healthcare provider about ordering these tests.

Total Cholesterol Goal:       < 200 mg/dL
Low Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol: < 100 mg/dL (optimal; goal may vary depending on level of risk)
Triglycerides Goal:   < 150 mg/dL
High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol:    > 40 mg/dL (men); > 50 mg/dL (women)

Evaluating an abnormal cholesterol profile:
If the results of your blood work are abnormal, your healthcare provider will work with you to develop a treatment plan specific to your needs.

Facts about Heart Disease