Researchers find that screening children for heart disease risk helps to identify parents at risk

Screening children could lead to interventions to reduce risk of disease

Screening children for risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease can help identify parents at risk for the condition, providing an opportunity for medical intervention in both children and their parents, according to research at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Researchers studied a community-based sample of 94 families – including 108 parents and 141 children – and found child/parent association was strong for cardiovascular risk factors including body mass index, waist circumference, systolic blood pressure, triglycerides and total cholesterol. The study was led by Evelyn Cohen Reis, MD, a pediatrician and researcher in the Division of General Academic Pediatrics at Children’s.

Results of the study are published online in the December issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Among its findings:

  • Parents of children with hypertension are nearly 15 times more likely to have hypertension than parents of children without the condition.
  • Parents of obese children are six times more likely to be obese than parents of non-obese children.
  • Parents of children with elevated triglycerides are five times more likely to have hypertriglyceridemia than parents of children with normal triglyceride levels.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 910,000 people annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease increases with risk factors such as hypertension, obesity and metabolic abnormalities. The nation’s burgeoning childhood obesity epidemic is associated with the increasing prevalence of these risk factors, according to Dr. Reis.

"Because children access primary care more frequently than adults, screening them for cardiovascular disease risk factors can also help identify parents who are at risk," said Dr. Reis, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Given the long lead time between the detection of risk factors and the onset of disease, universal screening of children would provide ample opportunity for intervention in children and their parents. The interventions could range from diet and exercise to medical treatment."

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Community partners for this study are the Urban League of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

For more information about Dr. Reis or the Division of General Academic Pediatrics at Children’s, please visit www.chp.edu.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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