The Heart Foundation Blog

Childhood Obesity

February 9th, 2018

Children who are obese are above the normal weight for their age and height. Today, about one in three American kids and teens are overweight or obese; nearly triple the rate in 1963. Among children today, obesity is causing a broad range of health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and elevated blood cholesterol levels. The excess weight at young ages has been linked to higher and earlier death rates in adulthood. There are also psychological effects: Obese children are more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. Many obese children become obese adults, especially if one or both parents are obese.

If you’re worried that your child is putting on too much weight, talk to his or her doctor and start a program that will treat and prevent obesity, and will help your child live a long, healthy life.

Complications from Childhood Obesity:

Physical Problems:
Type 2 diabetes. This chronic condition affects the way your child’s body uses sugar (glucose). Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in children.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure. Lack of exercise and a poor diet can cause your child to develop one or both of these conditions. These factors can contribute to the buildup of plaques in the arteries. These plaques can cause arteries to narrow and harden, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke later in life.
Asthma. Children who are overweight or obese might be more likely to have asthma.
Sleep disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder in which a child’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This disorder causes fatty deposits to build up in the liver. NAFLD can lead to scarring and liver damage.

Social and Emotional Problems:
Low self-esteem and being bullied. Children often tease or bully their overweight peers, who suffer a loss of self-esteem and an increased risk of depression as a result.
Behavior and learning problems. Overweight children tend to have more anxiety and poorer social skills than normal weight children do. These problems might lead children who are overweight to act out and disrupt their classrooms at one extreme, or to withdraw socially at the other.
Depression. In some children who are overweight, low self-esteem can create overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, which can lead to depression.

Causes of Childhood Obesity:

Lifestyle issues – too little activity and too many calories from food and drinks – are the main culprits of childhood obesity in the US.

Diet. Regularly eating high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, candy, desserts and baked goods, and vending machine snacks, can easily cause your child to gain weight. Sugary drinks, including fruit juices, are a huge contributor to childhood obesity.
Lack of exercise. Children who spend too much time in sedentary activities, such as watching television or playing video games, don’t exercise much and are more likely to gain weight because they don’t burn as many calories.
Family factors. Genetics can also contribute to childhood obesity. If your child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she may be more likely to put on weight. This is especially true in an environment where high-calorie foods are always available and physical activity isn’t encouraged.
Psychological factors. Personal, parental and family stress can increase a child’s risk of obesity. Some children overeat to cope with problems, or to deal with emotions, or to fight boredom. Their parents may have similar tendencies.
Socioeconomic factors. People in some communities have limited resources and limited access to supermarkets. As a result, they may opt for fast foods and convenience foods that don’t spoil quickly, such as frozen meals, crackers and cookies. In addition, children who live in lower income neighborhoods might not have access to a safe place for physical activity.


Whether your child is at risk of becoming overweight or is currently at a healthy weight, you can take measures to get or keep things on the right track. Good habits established in childhood help adolescents maintain healthy weights despite the hormonal changes, rapid growth and social influences that often lead to overeating. And active children are more likely to become fit adults.

Make it a family issue. One of the best strategies to reduce childhood obesity is to improve the eating and exercise habits of your entire family. Talking about the health and habits of the entire family together as a team will create a supportive environment and keep individual children from feeling targeted.

Encourage healthy eating habits.
Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products.
Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products.
Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils and beans for protein.
Serve reasonably sized portions for your child’s age.
Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
Reduce sugar, sodium and saturated fat and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Limit eating out, especially at fast-food restaurants.
Eat meals as a family as often as possible.
Help your kids understand the benefits of being physically active. A critical part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, especially for children, is physical activity. It burns calories, strengthens bones and muscles, and helps children sleep well at night and stay alert during the day.
Find activities your child likes, and emphasize activity, not exercise. Children and teens should be moderately to vigorously active for at least an hour a day. Your child’s activity doesn’t have to be a structured exercise program – if your child likes to climb, head for the nearest neighborhood jungle gym or climbing wall. If your child likes to read, then walk or bike to the neighborhood library for a book. The object is to get him or her moving. Free-play activities, such as bike riding, hide-and-seek, tag, dancing, swimming, or jump-rope are fun and are great for burning calories and improving fitness.

Reduce sedentary time. Although quiet time for reading and homework is fine, limit “screen time” (TV, video games, Internet, smartphones) to no more than two hours a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children younger than 18 months should avoid all screen time, except for video-chatting with family and friends. For older preschoolers, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming.
Schedule yearly doctor visits. Be sure your child sees the doctor for well-child checkups at least once a year. During this visit, your child’s doctor will measure your child’s history of growth and development, your family’s weight-for-height history, where your child lands on the growth charts, and their Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI provides a guideline of weight in relation to height, and is the accepted measure of overweight and obesity. An increase in your child’s BMI or in his or her percentile rank over one year is a possible sign that your child is at risk of becoming overweight.

Treating and preventing childhood obesity helps protect your child’s health now and in the future.



The American Heart Association:

Mayo Clinic:

The Risks of a Midlife Weight Gain

October 20th, 2017

Midlife weight gain is common. In two large-scale studies of health professionals in the United States, 93,000 women were asked to recall their weight at age 18 and 25,000 men were asked to recall their weight at age 21. At age 55, 37 years later, the average weight gain for women was 28 pounds. For men, 34 years later, the average weight gain was 21 pounds.

For many adults, weight gain is slow and steady, and much of midlife weight gain resides as belly fat in the midsection (click here to learn more about belly fat).  Researchers have found that for every 11 pounds gained, the risk for chronic diseases and other health problems increases dramatically.  An extra 11 pounds increases the risk of high blood pressure and hypertension by 14 percent, and the risk of heart disease or stroke by 8 percent. The same weight gain has been linked to an astonishing 30 percent increase in the risk of diabetes! In addition, a midlife weight gain can lead to osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and breathing problems, and some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver).


Why do so many people gain weight in midlife?

As you age, your body composition gradually shifts — the proportion of muscle decreases and the proportion of fat increases. This shift slows your metabolism, making it easier to gain weight. More and more food energy gets stored as body fat and fat stores are redistributed to the belly. Hormonal changes can also add about 2 to 5 pounds.  The rest of that extra weight is the result of overeating, poor lifestyle choices – such as not exercising enough – and stress.        

According to Dr. Frank Hu, a professor in the departments of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, “People don’t become obese overnight. On average, people gain about a half a pound to a pound per year, and once you cross the obesity threshold, it’s difficult to go back. If the dam is already open, the flood has already happened and it’s extremely difficult to rebuild the whole dam instead of repairing it.”


It’s never too late to start losing weight

Losing weight may seem like a daunting task, especially if you are older. It also becomes much harder to take weight off and keep it off the heavier you get. But, by targeting good lifestyle habits during midlife and beyond you can help prevent future health consequences. The following strategies may help you drop extra pounds and may help prevent further weight gains.

  • Consume foods high in fiber.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods and sugary drinks.
  • Limit serving sizes.
  • Be physically active and exercise regularly.  A brisk 30 minute walk a day can make a difference! A committed walking or exercise partner can provide consistency and encouragement.

  • Self-monitor your weight. You may find it helpful to weigh yourself on a regular basis. If you see a few pounds creeping on, take the time to examine your lifestyle.  Ask yourself: Has my activity level changed? Am I eating more than usual? You may find it helpful to keep a food diary for a few days so you can track what you eat along with why you are eating it. For example, do you opt for fatty snacks while watching TV? Get into the habit of thinking about what it is you’re eating, before you actually eat it.               
  • Stress: Often we over-eat when we are emotionally stressed. Learn to relax and deal with stress in healthy ways, by exercising, meditating, or engrossing yourself in a hobby.

Successful weight loss at any stage of life requires dedication and permanent changes in diet and exercise habits. Commit to lifestyle changes and make your future a healthy one!





U.S. National Library of Medicine:                                              

Mayo Clinic:                                                                                            

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:                    

Can a HEART HEALTHY lifestyle prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s?

September 29th, 2017

It is estimated that 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 10 men, who live past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 70% of the dementia in the elderly, and vascular dementia accounting for most other dementia cases in the elderly.

Experts agree that the vast majority of dementia or Alzheimer’s cases, like many other chronic conditions, are a result of multiple factors, including age, genetics, environment, and lifestyle. It is now thought that conditions that affect the heart, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol, can also increase the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The connection between the heart and the brain:
Vascular (blood vessel) problems that include atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries) and arteriosclerosis (the stiffening of arteries with age) are both well-known contributors to heart disease. Yet, these same processes can also damage brain function by interfering with the steady supply of oxygen-rich blood that nourishes brain cells. This means the brain is not getting a sufficient supply of blood over the long term. “An estimated one-third of all cases of dementia, including those identified as Alzheimer’s, can be attributed to vascular factors,” says Dr. Albert Hofman, chair of the department of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

High blood pressure, which is the leading cause of stroke, can also be linked to the progression of dementia. In a stroke, large portions of brain tissue die when a blood clot in a major brain artery abruptly halts the flow of blood. In addition to suffering immediate damage from a stroke, roughly one in three stroke survivors will eventually develop dementia.
High blood pressure can also cause more subtle injuries when tiny blockages occur in the small vessels deep within the brain. These silent strokes are 10 to 20 times more common than overt strokes. The microscopic damage they leave behind also raises the risk that dementia will emerge at a later date.

Healthy lifestyle choices can improve your overall health, your heart health, and possibly protect your brain:
A key step in maintaining your cognitive abilities is to reduce your major cardiovascular risks. This includes getting regular physical exercise, quitting smoking, managing blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. Of particular importance is keeping high blood pressure in check, especially in middle age.

1. Exercise: Regular physical exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow in the brain and may be beneficial in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

2. Healthy Diet: Research has long shown that a healthy diet is associated with lower levels of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. There is now some evidence that eating a heart healthy diet can also reduce the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking. Researchers have found that people who stuck to a Mediterranean-type diet reduced their risk for Alzheimer’s disease by 54%. But perhaps more importantly, researchers found that adults who followed the diet only part of the time still cut their risk of the disease by about 35%.

3. Stop Smoking: Smoking can cause heart disease and thus increase the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment caused by mini-strokes and hardening of the arteries. Smokers also have a high risk of insomnia and sleep apnea, both of which could theoretically increase the risk of dementia. Cigarettes and cigarette smoke contain more than 4,700 chemical compounds, including some that are highly toxic such as vinyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and heavy metals. While scientists aren’t sure which of these toxins are responsible for the increased risk, they do understand that tobacco products can damage our brains. Studies have shown that people who smoke are at higher risk of developing all types of dementia and a much higher risk (up to 79%) for Alzheimer’s disease.

Staying on top of risk factors:                                                                               Can dementia or Alzheimer’s be prevented? It’s a question that continues to intrigue researchers and fuel new investigations.  It is currently thought that the best way to maintain good brain function and reduce your risk of dementia is to adapt a healthy lifestyle, including eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise, not smoking, managing your weight, and maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.






Harvard Health Publication/Harvard Medical School:             

Alzheimer’s Association:   

Alzheimer’s Society/UK:   

Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation:                             

Institute for Dementia Research & Prevention, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University System:                                                           


Adult Vaccinations

September 1st, 2017

Before you know it, winter and flu season will be here. Each year thousands of adults in the United States get sick from diseases that are could be prevented by vaccines. Heart disease can make it harder for you to fight off certain diseases, and those with heart disease or who have suffered stroke are at a higher risk for contacting certain vaccine-preventable diseases, like the flu. If you have cardiovascular disease, talk with your doctor about making sure your vaccinations are up-to-date.

Why are Vaccines Important?

  1. Vaccine-preventable diseases haven’t gone away. The viruses and bacteria that cause illness and death still exist and can be passed on to those who are not protected by vaccines. In a time when people can travel across the globe in just one day, it’s not hard to see just how easily diseases can travel too.
  2. Vaccines will help keep you healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccinations throughout your life to protect against many infections. When you skip vaccines, you leave yourself vulnerable to illnesses such as shingles, pneumococcal disease, influenza, and HPV and hepatitis B. 
  3. Vaccines are as important to your overall health as diet and exercise.
    Like eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting regular check-ups, vaccines play a vital role in keeping you healthy. Vaccines are one of the most convenient and safest preventive care measures available.
  4. Vaccination can mean the difference between life and death. Vaccine-preventable infections are dangerous. Every year, approximately 50,000 US adults die from vaccine-preventable diseases in the US.
  5. Vaccines are safe. The US has the best post-licensure surveillance system in the world making vaccines extremely safe. There is extraordinarily strong data from many different medical investigators all pointing to the safety of vaccines. In fact, vaccines are among the safest products in all of medicine. Vaccines are one of the safest ways for you to protect your health, even if you are taking prescription medications. Vaccine side effects are usually mild and go away on their own. Severe side effects are very rare.
  6. Vaccines won’t give you the disease they are designed to prevent. You cannot “catch” the disease from the vaccine. Although some vaccines contain “killed” virus, it is impossible to get the disease from them. Others have live, but weakened, viruses designed to ensure that you cannot catch the disease.
  7. Young and healthy people can get very sick, too. Infants and the elderly are at a greater risk for serious infections and complications in many cases, but vaccine-preventable diseases can strike anyone. If you’re young and healthy, getting vaccinated can help you stay that way. 
  8.  Vaccine-preventable diseases are expensive. An average influenza illness can last up to 15 days, typically with five or six missed work days.
  9. When you get sick, your children, grandchildren and parents are at risk, too. A vaccine-preventable disease that might make you sick for a week or two could prove deadly for your children, grandchildren, or parents if it spreads to them. When you get vaccinated, you’re protecting yourself and your family. For example, adults are the most common source of pertussis (whooping cough) infection in infants, which can be deadly in infants.
  10. Your family and coworkers need you. In the US each year, millions of adults get sick from vaccine-preventable diseases, causing them to miss work and leaving them unable to care for those who depend on them, including their children and/or aging parents. 

Vaccines for Adults:

  1. Influenza (Flu) Vaccine:  This immunization helps protect against seasonal flu viruses.  Flu viruses are always changing, so the flu vaccines are updated every year. Protection lasts up to a year for each flu vaccine type. People with heart disease or who had had a stroke are at high risk of developing complications from influenza.
  2. Pneumococcal Vaccination: This vaccination can prevent some of the serious complications of pneumonia, such as infection in the bloodstream (bacteremia) or throughout the body (septicemia). Each year in the United States, pneumococcal disease causes thousands of infections, such as meningitis, bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and ear infections. Those who have heart disease should be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease. 
  3. TDaP Vaccine: This vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).  Tetanus and diphtheria shots need to be repeated every 10 years throughout adulthood in order to keep your immunity.
  4. Zoster Vaccine: If you are 60 years or older, you should get a one-time dose of this vaccine to protect against shingles. In the U.S., currently 1 million people get shingles every year, and about one out of every three people will get shingles in their lifetime. Shingles is a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the body, often the face or torso. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and clears up within 2 to 4 weeks. However, for some people the pain can last for months or even years after the rash goes away. This long-lasting pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), and it is the most common complication of shingles.

Getting Vaccinated:

Vaccinations are readily available and adults can get vaccinated at doctors’ offices, pharmacies, workplaces, community health clinics, health departments and other locations. Click here to find a place near you to get a vaccine. Most health insurance plans cover recommended vaccines. Check with your insurance provider for details and for a list of vaccine providers covered by your plan. If you do not have health insurance click here to learn more about health insurance options.





Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases: 

Five Daily Heart Healthy Habits

August 18th, 2017

The heart is the hardest working muscle in the human body. Every single day, the average heart beats 100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. In an average lifetime, that’s 2.5 billion beats! You know that keeping your weight down, exercise, and a good diet can keep your heart healthy. But what else can you do to keep your ticker pumping? Here are five simple things to do every day that will keep your hard-working heart strong!                                                        

1. Eat healthy fats. We need fats in our diet, including polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats, and a limited amount of saturated fats. One fat we do not need is trans-fat. Trans-fat clogs your arteries by raising the bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and lowering the good cholesterol levels (HDL), which can increase your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. By cutting trans-fats from your diet, you improve the blood flow throughout your body. So, what are trans-fats? They are industry-produced fats often used to add flavor and texture to packaged baked goods, snack foods, margarine, and fried fast foods. Read the labels on all foods. Trans-fat appears on the ingredients list as partially hydrogenated oils.

* Stick to a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish, and limit sugars, sodium, processed and red meats, and make it a point to avoid eating foods with trans-fat.                  

2. Practice good dental hygiene, and floss your teeth daily. Your dental health is a good indication of your overall health. Many researchers have concluded there is a link between periodontal (gum) disease and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Though not conclusive, studies suggest that the bacteria from gum disease in your bloodstream can trigger inflammation throughout the body (systemic inflammation). This inflammation may in turn, increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

* Floss and brush your teeth daily to prevent a build-up of bacteria-laden plaque, which can lead to gum disease. It’s more than cavities you may have to deal with if you are fighting gum disease.

3. Get enough sleep. Sleep is an essential part of keeping your heart healthy. If you don’t sleep enough, you may be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease no matter your age or other health habits. One study looking at 3,000 adults over the age of 45 found that those who slept fewer than six hours per night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who slept six to eight hours per night. Researchers believe sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes, including blood pressure and inflammation.

* Try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. If you or your partner snores and wakes up feeling tired, talk with your doctor. You may have sleep apnea, and you should be treated, as this condition is linked to heart disease and arrhythmias.

4. Keep moving – don’t sit for too long at one time. In recent years, research has suggested that staying seated for long periods of time is bad for your health no matter how much exercise you get. This is bad news for the many people who sit at sedentary jobs all day. When looking at the combined results of several observational studies that included nearly 800,000 people, researchers found that in those who sat the most, there was an associated 147 percent increase in cardiovascular events and a 90 percent increase in deaths from those cardiovascular events. In addition, sitting for long periods of time, especially when traveling, can increase your risk of a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis).

* It’s important to move throughout the day. Park farther away from the office, take a few shorter walks throughout the day, stand while talking on the phone. Break the TV habit in favor of exercise, or, if you have room, exercise in front of the TV. And remember to exercise regularly, 30 minutes a day, seven days a week.

5. Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes is as bad for the heart and arteries as it is for the lungs. Smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease and many other life–threatening disorders and diseases. If you smoke, stop. Studies have shown that the risk of developing heart disease is about 25 to 30 percent higher for people who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work. According to the American Heart Association, exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year. This is because the chemicals emitted from cigarette smoke promote the development of plaque buildup in the arteries.


* Secondhand smoke is toxic. Be firm with smokers and let them know that you do not want to breathe their smoke, and keep children away from secondhand smoke.





You can dramatically reduce your chances of heart disease or a heart attack by following healthy lifestyle habits. Pay attention to good habits early in life and incorporate these habits into your lifestyle and your heart health will be the best it can be for you.




The Cleveland Clinic:

Harvard Health Publications: 



Exercise leads to a healthy heart

August 4th, 2017

A bathroom scale measures how much there is of you on the planet – not how healthy you are. Research shows that a regular exercise regime may not result in weight loss, but it can drastically reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease. Click here to learn more.