Father behind laughing son, both on bikes on a trail with trees behind them

A new study shows something we’ve always figured was true: our health and habits as children and teens affect our health as adults. And not just our health, but how long we live.

What did the study measure and find?

The International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohorts Consortium Outcomes Study has been collecting data on almost 40,000 people from the United States, Finland, and Australia. They started enrolling them as children in the 1970s through the 1990s, and have been following them ever since.

The researchers have been looking at the effects of five risk factors:

From 2015 to 2019, the researchers followed up on all of these people, who were 46 on average, which is not very old. They found that almost 800 of them had had cardiovascular events (like a heart attack or stroke), of which more than 300 were fatal.

When the researchers matched outcomes to values for the five factors, they found that they were indeed risk factors:

None of this is a surprise, but seeing it so clearly should be a wake-up call, especially to parents.

What can parents do to help steer a course toward healthy adulthood?

Parents can take these four important steps:

  1. Know if your child is at risk. Understandably, many parents don’t pay close attention to the numbers at their child’s checkup, or the results of blood tests. But those numbers are important.
  1. Take what you learn — and this study — seriously. An “it’s just baby fat” or “they have plenty of time to get healthy” approach can be dangerous.
  1. Talk to your kids about not smoking. Start early — well before adolescence, when peer pressure becomes powerful. Make sure they know the facts, and help them learn and practice ways to say no.
  2. See your doctor regularly. Children should see their doctor at least yearly, and if your child has one of the five risk factors, they will need more frequent visits. Make these visits a priority — your child’s life might literally depend on it.

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