Most people only think of middle-aged adults or the elderly as being affected by heart disease. Children are usually thought of as having healthy hearts. Yet, nine out of every 1,000 babies born in the US are born with a congenital heart abnormality. Several studies suggest that in order to prevent death in the first year of life, 2.3 per 1,000 live births require some sort of invasive treatment for a congenital heart defect. Nearly one million people living in the US were born with a congenital heart defect.
Risk factors that contribute to coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular diseases (such as smoking, lack of exercise, and high cholesterol levels) often begin at an early age. About 4.5 million children, ages 12 to 17, are already smokers. Nearly half of children ages 12 to 21 do not exercise on a daily basis, and an estimated 8.8 million (about 30 percent) US children ages six to 19 are obese.
Some heart problems experienced by children, such as most cases of congenital (present at birth) heart defects, can be treated medically or surgically, but cannot be prevented.
However, heart-healthy living habits started at an early age - sensible eating, keeping cholesterol levels low, getting regular exercise, refraining from smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight - greatly diminish the risks of other cardiovascular problems such as stroke, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease developing in adulthood. Heart-healthy living is very important for children born with heart defects to prevent complications from medical and surgical treatments that may be required throughout adolescence and adulthood.