Take care of children's health

THE RISK of avoidable deaths among young people is being increased by the nation's failure to take responsibility for children's health, experts warned today.

THE RISK of avoidable deaths among young people is being increased by the nation's failure to take responsibility for children's health, experts warned today.

The early signs of heart disease were now apparent in children as young as two, said the National Heart Forum (NHF).

It called on the Government to introduce a national plan for children's health to defuse the potential "time-bomb" of illness, warning that collective inaction threatened to cause huge and increasing demands on scarce NHS resources to treat preventable disease in 40 to 50 years' time.

Launching youngatheart, a new framework of recommendations to tackle unhealthy lifestyles among children, the NHF said every child born today should be able to live to at least the age of 65 free from avoidable coronary heart disease.

Klim (correct) McPherson, Professor of public health epidemiology at the University of Bristol, said: "Reducing death rates will be a hollow victory if we permit an epidemic of disease by ignoring the root causes of the problem.

"Current estimates suggest that the number of people suffering from diabetes will double by 2010, and the number of people who are obese is increasing at a similar rate.

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"It is particularly worrying how inactive children and young people are becoming, and how rates of overweight and obesity have risen alarmingly among children in the last 20 years.'

The NHF said coronary heart disease is estimated to cost the UK economy about £10 billion every year, but that effective public health interventions could reduce the burden by up to 30%.

NHF vice chairman Professor David Wood, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Charing Cross Hospital, London, said: "There is a substantial body of evidence to suggest that to prevent coronary heart disease in the adult we must begin with the child.

"Heart attacks are rare before middle age, but the early signs of coronary heart disease are already apparent in some children and adolescents. "Atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries) has been found in children as young as two years old. By the age of 20, it may be present in as many as one in three young people.'

Paul Lincoln, chief executive of the NHF, said: "In an average class of 30 pupils, two are likely to suffer a heart attack, 13 will become obese and three will develop diabetes before they are 65 if current trends persist.

"Fewer places to play or walk, dwindling PE lessons and sports facilities, and a monotonous diet of advertisements for foods high in fat, sugar and salt are creating a cardiotoxic environment for children.

"A healthy society is one which actively protects the health of its young and does not abandon children to the market forces of the food and tobacco industries. Government, local authorities and industry must recognise and act upon a collective responsibility for children's health.'

Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper said: "We welcome the work done by youngatheart which builds upon action already under way.

"Tackling Coronary Heart Disease is one of our top priorities, as the National Service Framework demonstrates.

"We are committed to dramatically reducing the impact of Coronary Heart Disease on future generations which is why we are developing initiatives like the National School Fruit Scheme that by 2004 will give every child aged four to six a free piece fruit each school day.'