The National Heart Forum (NHF) in the UK yesterday launched a new programme called young@heart, offering a number of recommendations promoting an active lifestyle and a diet low in fat and rich in fruit and vegetables for the nation's children.
The NHF is concerned that the government is not doing enough to ensure that every child born today will be able to live at least to the age of 65 free from coronary heart disease. The organisation has called for a national plan for children's health to address the social, economic and environmental influences on health, as well as dealing with poor nutrition, physical inactivity and smoking.
The NHF said children are taking less exercise than they once did because of the threat posed by traffic and crime and a decrease in school sports lessons and facilities. In addition, they are bombarded with a constant stream of adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt which has created a "cardiotoxic" environment.
According to NHF chief executive Paul Lincoln, in an average class of 30 pupils, two are likely to suffer a heart attack, 13 will become obese and three will develop diabetes before they are 65 if current trends persist. Children as young as two have been known to suffer from heart disease, he added.
"A healthy society is one which actively promotes the health of its young and does not abandon children to the market forces of the food and tobacco industries. Government, local authorities and industry must recognise and act upon a collective responsibility for children's health," Lincoln said.
The young@heart programme recommends that minimum income standards be changed so that all families can afford to give their children a healthy start in life, as well as suggesting the mandatory promotion of health in schools and a national inquiry into the impact of food and tobacco advertising on child and family health.
It also suggests national targets for the quality and uptake of school meals, widening the availability of existing child health initiatives, better training, standards and support for public health professionals working with children and families and involving children and young people in policy making, nationally and locally.