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Young at heart: cardiovascular health-ESC and European Heart Network

In this joint session organised by the ESC together with the European Heart Network smoking habits, obesity and the impact of educational programmes and trends in health related behaviours among children were discussed.
The importance of “denormalizing” smoking was emphasized by G Hastings (Stirling UK). All efforts must be devoted to changing the culture in the direction that healthy choices become popular and the preferred model among youngsters. Societies may certainly improve in this respect. We tend to accept a “killing behaviour”. The policy that smokers have rights beyond non smokers must be stopped and a ban on smoking in public places is a definite step in the right direction.


In the opinion of M L Frelut (Paris, FR) modern society is characterized by two main features that have a direct and synergistic impact on children’s weight: it provides less opportunity or need to move, and increased accessibility to food and drinks facilitating as never before a positive energy balance. In Europe, recent estimates came up with the following figures: out of 77 million children, around 17 million are obese or overweight and the annual increase rate is around half a million. Growth is underlined by gene expression, the consequences of which reach a peak in this phase of tissue development, and behaviour learning starts in utero. Overweight children, before the age of three, tend to move less. Narrower food choices in young adults, reflecting food variety in childhood have been evidenced. Children start being influenced by TV advertising at the age of two years and are then already able to influence their parents’ choices. Altogether, children are not protected by society in proportion to the pressure they are submitted to. In many countries, the law states that vulnerable consumers should be protected. However, vulnerability is intended in an old fashioned way that includes disabled people while the “natural vulnerability” of the younger is simply forgotten.
Modern society has multiple ways to impact on children’s weight. This in turn pinpoints that an active and comprehensive prevention is required.

Regarding educational programmes directed towards children, Li Villard (Stockholm, SE) investigated an educational activity directed towards 10 year old Swedish school children. She found that the programme increased knowledge but that programmes that do not involve parents and that do not combine knowledge based education with behavioural training are ineffective when it comes to changing behaviour.


This session clearly underlined that we need to pay increased attention to how to direct our children towards healthy habits and choices. A variety of activities are needed. To involve schools in such programmes gives an opportunity to reach children from all parts of society. Legal actions are needed. Marketing and advertising are important fields to explore. Programmes must combine behavioural components and not only be knowledge based. It is time to take immediate action. We need to invest in a healthy future for our children that just now are facing a difficult and often not health oriented environment.


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Young at heart: cardiovascular health - a matter of an early start Symposium - The European Society of Cardiology and the European Heart Network

The content of this article reflects the personal opinion of the author/s and is not necessarily the official position of the European Society of Cardiology.