5 tips to help teens stay heart healthy

healthy teen 2As parents, we want our kids to stay healthy throughout their lives. The teen years are an important time to build healthy cardiovascular habits.

In 2010, the American Heart Association set the bold goal of improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent. In setting this goal, they created a paradigm shift from the treatment of cardiovascular disease to the promotion of cardiovascular health. Their recommendation was based on more than a decade of data showing adults who reach middle age without any major cardiovascular disease risk factors have a high chance of staying healthy well into old age. They don’t just have lower rates of heart disease and stroke; they also have lower rates of cancer, memory loss and kidney disease.

What is cardiovascular health? The American Heart Association defines cardiovascular health as having optimal blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood glucose while also maintaining a normal weight, not smoking, being physically active and eating well.

Unfortunately, essentially zero Americans have all seven of these cardiovascular health factors — mostly due to the unhealthy American diet. Only 19 percent of teens and 8 percent of young adults have six of the seven.

As an adolescent medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital, my research focuses on how we can keep teens heart healthy as they transition to adulthood.

My patients and their parents often ask about cardiovascular health. Here’s how I answer some of the most common questions.

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Health headlines: focusing on hospital safety, using zebrafish to understand cancer and fixing ACL tears with a sponge

Cleaning

Boston Children’s Hospital’s doctors and researchers are constantly working to uncover and understand health and medical questions. Health Headlines is a twice-monthly summary of some of the most important research findings and news.

Top news this week includes how hospitals are changing to become safer, how zebrafish are helping cancer researchers make strides and how sponges are being used to repair torn ACLs.

How hospitals are changing to become safer

The New York Times “Opinionator” blog reports patient safety experts say that medical errors are more a function of faulty systems than faulty people. In recent years, with leadership from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine, federal programs like the Partnership for Patients and numerous hospitals have made focused efforts to reduce harm.

Scientists watch as healthy cells turn into melanoma

Medscape reports on new research from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Leonard Zon, that finds zebrafish can be used to visually track melanoma as it begins. Researchers believe this work could have significant implications for cancer therapeutics, in that it provides clues for stopping cancer before it even begins.

Can a sponge fix athletes’ knees?

The Wall Street Journal features research from Boston Children’s Dr. Martha Murray, that is currently in the first safety trials in humans. Dr. Murray and Boston Children’s Dr. Lyle Micheli are inserting a sponge roughly the size of a thumb to serve as a bridge between the torn strands of the ACL and flushing it with the patient’s blood. That serves as a stimulus to make a bridge grow essentially encouraging the ACL to repair itself.

Learn more about Boston Children’s ACL Program.

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3-D printed heart makes a rare keepsake for this Alabama family

3-D printed heart
Dr. Jason Ayres with his son Patrick, Dr. Sitaram Emani, and Patrick’s 3-D printed heart

A clinical trial to outline the benefits of using 3-D printed hearts for surgery was recently funded by the nonprofit organization Matthew’s Hearts of Hope. Read more about this on our sister blog, Vector.

Jason Ayres, a family doctor in Alabama, was speechless as he held his adopted son’s heart in his hands — well, a replica of his son’s heart, an exact replica, 3-D printed before the three-year-old boy had lifesaving open-heart surgery.

Patrick Ayres was one of the Boston Children’s Hospital’s first beneficiaries of 3-D printing, which in 2015 helped open a new frontier in pediatric cardiac surgery.

Patrick was born with numerous cardiac problems; in addition to double outlet right ventricle (DORV) and a complete atrioventricular canal defect, his heart lay backwards in his chest. DORV is a complex congenital defect in which the blood pumped from the heart to the body lacks adequate oxygen. Complete atrioventricular canal defect is a combination of issues related to holes in the heart and/or ineffective heart valves.

“There were a lot of things wrong with his heart,” says Jason. “We knew early on that he’d need complex surgery to survive.”

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Why your children should get the HPV vaccine — and why they should get it early

HPV vaccine recommendationsIf there’s something we can do to prevent our children from getting cancer, we should do it. Plain and simple. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that youth be vaccinated against Human Papilloma Virus, starting as young as 9 years old.

Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV, is the leading cause of cervical cancer. It can cause other cancers as well in both men and women, and is the cause of genital warts. The vaccine, which is given as three doses over 6 months, is very effective. And yet, some parents don’t want me to give the vaccine, especially when their children aren’t teenagers yet.

Here’s what seem to be the two biggest reasons:

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