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Study: Disadvantaged kids at higher risk for heart disease later in life

Access to fresh and healthy food is just one of the obstacles faced by socioeconomically disadvantaged kids.

As adults, we know to make sure we're taking care of ourselves and reducing our risk for things like heart disease, heart attack and stroke. But a recent study found one group of children may be more at risk due to their social and economic status. The study found that disadvantaged children have a thicker carotid artery wall -- which can lead to things like heart disease and other problems later in life.

Dr. Clyde Yancy is the chief of cardiology in the Department of Medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. He joins us today to clear up the study’s findings and discuss how we can give all children the opportunity to be healthy.

Heart disease and other related problems

While an exact cause was not found for the hardening or buildup of cholesterol and fat in the carotid artery in this study, it is pointing to health problems that may appear down the road. The hardening of the carotid artery is a good benchmark for the build up of cholesterol and fat in other arteries in the body. This sets the body up for not only a greater risk for heart disease and other related problems but also an earlier death.

“The distinction between the degree of atherosclerosis seen in these children and those that don’t have the same thickening of the carotid artery at this early age is equivalent to an extra eight to ten years of aging,” said Yancy.

While this study only finds the association between socioeconomically disadvantaged kids, it is important to understand what factors may be the cause of this. These kids are born into a built environment where it may be more difficult to be healthy.

“Where do you live? Are you able access fresh fruits and vegetables? Is there a safe place to recreate? Is public transportation available? Can you get to a hospital or healthcare facility? Are their physicians, are their clinics that are approximate, that are close to where you live,” says Yancy. “All of these things go beyond anything that an individual can control and constitute what we call built environment.”

Giving children the chance to grow up healthy

Being aware of the situation is the first step in being able to help. Understanding how communities influence health is also an important to keeping these kids healthy. Shifting people’s attention to making sure these communities are safe, have protected green spaces for activity, and new opportunities to get fresh food vendors in the communities that may not have the oppotunity. 

“We are talking about giving children the opportunity to grow up healthy and have a chance at a healthy adulthood,” said Yancy.