Category: CVD Prevention

Limit Screen Time to Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Recent advice from the American Heart Association indicates that children should have limited screen time, as it may contribute to future cardiovascular disease. The AHA has emphasized existing recommendations, which suggest limiting screen time for children & teens to no more than 1-2 hours each day. Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Stephen Daniels, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, states: “Screen time is associated with being overweight and obese which is associated with high cholesterol and high blood pressure…Once those risk factors, such as obesity, are in play in childhood, they tend to continue into adulthood.”

The recommendations stem from a review of two decades of science, conducted by an AHA expert panel, regarding the correlation between CVD, stroke, and self-reported screen time by children and teens. The surveyed findings found that the use of mobile screens is up, which has resulted in an overall net increase of screen time. Kids and teens today, between the ages of 8 and 18, are estimated to spend more than 7 hours each day on ‘smartphones, tablets, video games, and other screen-based recreational devices, including television.’

Sedentary behavior is inevitably linked to higher risks for obesity; obesity is intricately linked to heart disease. Dr. David Hill, chairman of the Council on Communication and Media for the American Academy of Pediatrics, confirms, “There are strong data that relate childhood TV time to obesity in children.” The scientific statement published by the AHA further states that the upward increasing trends of screen time are particularly concerning given the accessibility and portability of screen-based devices, coupled with the access to unlimited programming and online content–which could lead to “new patterns of consumption that are exposing youth to multiple pathways harmful to cardiometabolic health.”

Tracie Barnett, a researcher at the INRS-Institut Armand Frappier and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center in Montreal, said in a statement that “There are real concerns that screens influence eating behaviors, possibly because children ‘tune out’ and don’t notice when they are full when eating in front of a screen.” Barnett added that screens can disrupt sleep quality, further increasing the risk of obesity.

Overall, the American Heart Association scientific statement provides an updated perspective on sedentary behaviors specific to modern youth, and their overall effects and impacts on obesity and cardiometabolic health. While the panel agreed that there is little research regarding the longterm repercussions of screen use on children’s health, parents must improve childhood physical activity. Hill noted, “Heart health starts during childhood, so I think it’s very appropriate that the American Heart Association looks at every issue that can contribute to heart disease.”

Ideas cited in an article published by CNN include encouraging family physical activity, scheduling movement/exercise each day, eliminating any TV and/or mobile screen devices from bedrooms, and planning TV viewing in advance. The AHA statement suggests that parents and guardians sholud be supported to not only ‘devise and enforce appropriate screen time regulations,’ but also to effectively model healthy screen-based behaviors.

Experts conclude by clarifying that not all technology is inherently harmful; the American Academy of Pediatrics has created an interactive tool that has the capability to create a personalized media use plan for entire families. “There are ways to leverage technology to improve health,” said Hill. “My youngest got his first fitness tracker at 11, and comes to me every day to tell me how many steps he’s taken.”


Heart Health Benefits of Walnuts

In recent years, studies have increasingly suggested that consumption of nuts can boost heart health, as nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, protein, vitamin E, folate, and several minerals, such as potassium, zinc, and magnesium. Nuts also boast additional bioactive chemicals, including phenolics and phytosterols. A 2016 study in the British Medical Journal reinforced the assertion that “higher nut consumption is associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, total CVD, CVD mortality, total CHD, CHD mortality and sudden cardiac death.” Another 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that diabetes risk drops by 40 percent with only 20 grams of nuts each day, and the risk of infectious diseases is lowered by 75 percent.

Yet while most of the findings stemmed from observational studies with limited sample sizes, a systematic review of clinical trials spanning the last 25 years has confirmed that nuts can indeed benefit cardiovascular health, optimize the aging process, and minimize the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.

Led by Marta Guasch-Ferré — a research associate in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA — a team of scientists conducted a large-scale review of various studies that focused on the correlation between nut consuption and heart health. In a study last year, Guasch-Ferré referred to nuts as “natural health capsules.” The review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, evaluated 26 randomized trials: including 1,059 participants between ages between 22 and 75. Some of the study’s participants had conditions such as high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

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