The Western Diet In Childhood Could Cause Long Term Blood Vessel Damage

It’s not a surprise that childhood eating habits can have a long term effect on overall health and as such cardiovascular health is no exception. Recent research performed by the British Heart Foundation and the University of Bristol have shown some concerning findings regarding impact of diet on arterial stiffness, which is a key indicator of blood vessel damage that increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke. [1]

The Importance of Healthy Eating Habits in Childhood

Arteries play a vital role in transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. As we age arteries do naturally become a bit stiffer. But, certain factors like smoking or conditions like diabetes can exacerbate this process.

Stiff arteries can lead to elevated blood pressure and increased strain on the heart, which can cause more serious problems over time.

As a result it’s essential to understand how childhood diet seems to effect arterial stiffness to prevent issues later in life.

So, What Does The Bristol Study Show?

The University of Bristol researchers examined the relationship between childhood diet and arterial stiffness in their teenage years.

Their study involved over 4,700 children participating in the Children of the 90s health study. [2]

Dietary information was collected at ages seven, 10, and 13, and arterial stiffness and arterial wall thickness were later measured when the participants reached ages 17 and 24.

The Impact of Unhealthy Diets on Arterial Stiffness

The study findings indicated that children who consumed diets high in calories, fat, and sugar, while low in fiber, at ages seven and 10 had stiffer arteries by the time they reached age 17.

These diets, often referred to as "Westernized" diets, were associated with an increased risk of arterial damage and cardiovascular issues later in life.

Previous research has also linked this type of calorie-dense dietary pattern to excess weight in childhood and adolescence which carries with it a whole host of other issues.

Protective Dietary Patterns for Heart Health

Interestingly, the study also revealed that certain dietary patterns appeared to have a protective effect on arterial health.

Children who followed a Mediterranean style diet showed substantially lower arterial stiffness at age 17.

Similarly, a diet rich in anti inflammatory nutrients at age 10 was associated with improved arterial elasticity at 17.

What Did The Research Team Have To SAy

Dr. Genevieve Buckland, the BHF Research Fellow at Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, who led the study, underscores the need for developing well balanced eating habits from childhood to reduce the risk of future heart problems. The long term effects of arterial stiffness emphasize the importance of prevention strategies implemented early in life.

Socioeconomic Factors and Dietary Patterns

Whilst this isn’t going to come as much of a surprise to most people, the study also found associations between healthier dietary patterns and certain socioeconomic factors.

Children with healthier diets, according to the study's scoring system, were more likely to be from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

Childhood Diet Implications for Public Health Policies

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of disability and premature death in the west. With the most vulnerable populations often being those in poorer areas. The study's results underscore the need for comprehensive and bold approaches to improve dietary habits and promote heart health. Government intervention is crucial in creating an environment where healthy food choices are readily available and easily accessible to everyone.

References

1 - https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2024/january/diet-in-childhood-blood-vessel-damage

2 - https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/associations-of-childhood-diet-quality-scores-with-arterial-stiffness-and-carotid-artery-intimamedia-thickness-in-adolescenceearly-adulthood-findings-from-the-alspac-cohort/C1AFFA3C9D7A22F1D5032539AA9AD371

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