With Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, You Can’t Start Too Early

What a young man’s tragedy illustrates about the importance of heart health

By Roberta H. Anding, MS, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Most people think that heart attacks only affect the elderly and obese, but the truth is that they can impact anyone. Professor Anding explains why when it comes to prevention, it’s never too early to start—and sometimes looks can be deceiving.

Woman preparing a salad with her daughter
Prevention efforts should start very early in life, since cardiovascular disease actually begins in childhood, with cardiovascular injuries, inflammation, and plaque buildup. Photo By Yuganov Konstantin / Shutterstock

Fitness Alone Isn’t Always Enough

Before exploring cardiovascular disease and the associated risks, let’s start with a story. In Professor Anding’s first year working as a nutritionist with the Houston Texans, she looked at everybody’s lab work. One 27-year-old man had exceptionally high cholesterol. 

As Anding was sending him to the cardiologist in Houston, he got cut by the Texans and picked up by another team. After he left Houston, he went to the other team and suffered a heart attack. 

“The tragedy of that is that people looked at him, saw that he was physically active—he worked out, he ate a lot, but he was burning it all off—and so they thought he didn’t have to worry about heart disease,” Professor Anding said. “That actually is a fallacy that cost this young man his football career, as well as his ability to earn a living because he had significant complications after his MI, or myocardial infarction.”

Cardiovascular Disease Rates

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death and disability in the United States and most European countries. 

“It’s hard to say in this day and age that that’s tragic,” Professor Anding said. “But it is, because we’ve learned a lot about cardiovascular disease, but a lot of the stopping of cardiovascular disease really requires a reframe for most of us.” 

Some sources say that approximately 50%, or one out of two Americans, will develop some form of heart disease within their lifetime. It kills more Americans than cancer and many other chronic illnesses, but if you ask most women what they fear most, they fear breast cancer and not necessarily cardiovascular disease.

Developing Good Habits Early

“My football player didn’t develop cardiovascular disease at 27,” Professor Anding said.

Cardiovascular disease actually begins in childhood, with cardiovascular injuries, inflammation, and plaque buildup accumulation. This means that the prevention efforts should start in childhood. 

“If you have children or grandchildren, you can’t say, ‘Oh, I ate that way when I was a child,'” Professor Anding said. “‘There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have whole milk as a 10-year-old. Everybody loves pizzas, so we’re going to get pizza two to three times a week because, after all, they’re children.’” 

Keep in mind that those habits they develop as children are going to be difficult for them to change. According to Professor Anding, one of the best gifts that you can give your children is cardiovascular protection and encourage them to continue eating habits that promote a healthy heart throughout the life cycle.

This article series will explore different types of cardiovascular disease, common symptoms, and some modifiable risk factors that you can change as well as genetic factors, guiding you to be a better consumer in terms of predicting your risk.

These articles are not intended, however, to replace a physical exam by your physician. Instead, they provide an overview of the types of cardiovascular diseases that we can encounter. Tomorrow’s article will explore angina, a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.

Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.