By: Dennis Kim, MD, PhD *Director, Pediatric Cardiac Catheterization
Laboratories, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta/Sibley Heart Center
*February is American Heart Month, so one of our pediatric heart healthexperts, Dennis Kim, MD, PhD, is answering questions about kids’ heart
health here at the Healthy Dose blog! A father to five daughters, Dr. Kim
understands the challenges of raising a healthy family in our busy world.
Dr. Kim is the director of the Pediatric Cardiac Catheterization
Laboratories at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta/Sibley Heart Center
Cardiology, where he diagnoses and treats kids and adults with congenital
heart disease using catheter-based methods. Dr. Kim started his medical
career in general pediatrics and pediatric cardiology. He’s also the
editor-in-chief for SecondsCount.org, a website dedicated to patient
education for cardiac issues. Dr. Kim answered some of our top questions
about heart health and has some great tips for building healthy heart
habits for life!*
Q: Do parents need to be concerned about kids’ heart health?
A: It’s easy to think children don’t need to worry about heart-related
issues like hypertension, cholesterol and cardiac disease. And while it’s
true the risk factors for these problems increase as you get older, very
often it’s the habits we form as kids that determine our heart wellness as
Q: My child is healthy and doesn’t have any symptoms of heart
problems—should I still worry?
A: It might surprise you that high cholesterol is a fairly widespread
health issue in otherwise healthy kids, and that high blood pressure is
found in 3 to 4 percent of all children! Fatty plaque in arteries can start
developing in children as young as 8 years old, and continue building up
Q: What increases the risk of my kids developing heart problems?
A: Exposure to cigarette smoke is a huge risk factor, along with physical
inactivity, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high
cholesterol. If your child has a congenital heart defect, has had cancer or
has been diagnosed with certain diseases, they are also at greater risk for
Q: If my child is healthy and has a normal body weight, can I assume his
heart is healthy?
A: Just because your child isn’t overweight and doesn’t show symptoms
doesn’t necessarily mean his heart is in good condition. Many heart issues
found in adults are the result of unresolved issues that got their start
during childhood—probably because parents didn’t realize there was a
problem. Things like high cholesterol are fairly silent, and by that I mean
there are no outward signs to let a parent know something’s not right.
Q: If these risks are silent, how do I know if my child is at risk?
A: Make the most of annual doctor visits. Check in with your kids’
pediatrician each year to track their blood pressure, BMI and update your
family health history. This way, any negative trends can be addressed
Q: What’s something I can start today to help my kids have healthier
A: Reduce the amount of fast food your family eats. It’s full of sodium
and saturated fats, which we know is bad for our hearts. Even so-called
healthier restaurants tend to serve too-large portions and sneak in
unhealthy additives, both of which impact our hearts in a negative way. If
you must eat out, choose nutritious menu options like lean meats, whole
grains and smaller portions.
Q: Is there anything I should add to our daily routines to improve heart
A: Playtime! Not only does regular activity help keep our BMI in the
healthy zone, which is essential to healthy hearts, but physical activity
also builds stronger hearts. Getting that heart pumping through playtime
actually builds your hard-working heart muscle. Kids naturally want to be
active, so take them to the park, sign them up for sports and provide fun
reasons to get outside!
Q: Any final words of advice?
A: When it comes to our bodies, there are some things we can’t
control—like family history—but we can do things like eat right and
exercise for healthier hearts. The good news is with the right habits in
place, we can put kids on the path toward having strong hearts for a long