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Preschool Eating Behaviors Linked to Heart Disease Risk

Update Date: Jun 17, 2013 12:06 PM EDT

Protecting the heart needs an early start.  Numerous studies have found that unhealthy lifestyle in adulthood increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.  However, a new study reveals that when it comes to preventing heart disease, diet and lifestyle in early life is just as important as diet and lifestyle in later life.

A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) linked the eating behaviors of preschoolers to risk of cardiovascular disease in later life. The study involved 1,076 preschool children aged three to five years participating in the TARGet Kids! practice-based research network in Toronto, Ontario.  The research examined the link between eating habits and serum levels of non-high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is a surrogate marker of later cardiovascular risk.

Researchers had parents fill out questionnaires assessing eating behaviors of children.  The survey assessed eating behaviors such as watching television while eating, dietary intake, parental concerns about activity levels and growth, screen time and use of supplements.

Researchers also measured height and weight of the children and their parents and took blood samples to examine lipid profile.  The study also assigned a risk level based on ethnicity of the patents because some groups are more likely to develop heart disease than others.

"Our results show that associations between eating behaviours and cardiovascular risk appear early in life and may be a potential target for early intervention," Dr. Navindra Persaud, family physician and researcher at St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, and her team wrote in the study.

"Eating behaviours as reported by parents via the NutriSTEP questionnaire were positively associated with serum non-HDL cholesterol levels in children aged 3-5 years," the authors added. "The association between the eating behaviors subscore and serum non-HDL cholesterol persisted after controlling for age, sex, birth weight, zBMI (z-score body mass index), parental BMI, gestational diabetes and parental ethnicity."

Researchers said the latest findings support previous arguments for interventions aimed at improving eating behaviors of preschool-aged children.

Positive interventions include "promoting responsive feeding, where adults provide appropriate access to healthy foods and children use internal cues (not parent-directed cues or cues from the television) to determine the timing, pace and amount they consume," researchers concluded.

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