Eating Vegetables, Fruits as Children Linked to Healthier Arteries as Adults

November 30, 2010

Study Highlights:

– Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables as a child is associated with healthier arteries as an adult.

– The amount of vegetables consumed in childhood correlated to the amount of arterial stiffness in adulthood.

DALLAS, Nov. 30, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Children who consistently eat lots of fruits and vegetables lower their risk of having stiff arteries in young adulthood, according to research reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20100222/AHSALOGO )

Arterial stiffness is associated with atherosclerosis, which underlies heart disease. When arteries are stiff, the heart works harder to pump blood.

Researchers compared childhood and adulthood lifestyle factors — including consumption levels of vegetables, fruit, butter and alcohol, as well as smoking and physical activity status — with pulse wave velocity in young adulthood. Pulse wave velocity assesses arterial stiffness.

“When the heart beats, the blood’s ejection causes a pulse wave, which travels along the wall of the arterial tree,” said Mika Kahonen, M.D., Ph.D., senior study author and professor and chief physician for the Department of Clinical Physiology at Tampere University Hospital in Tampere, Finland. “The velocity of this pulse wave is dependent on the stiffness of the arterial wall; the stiffer the wall, the higher velocity. It is well known that the arterial stiffening process has a major role in the development of cardiovascular diseases.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study looking at the associations between childhood lifestyle risk factors and pulse wave velocity in young adulthood.”

The researchers examined lifestyle factors and measured arterial pulse wave velocity of 1,622 participants in the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, which followed children ages 3 to 18 for 27 years. They found:

  • A pattern of eating fewer vegetables in childhood was associated with higher pulse wave velocity as an adult. The association remained significant when adjusted for traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, (good cholesterol) and low-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol).
  • The group with the persistent pattern of eating more vegetables and fruit from childhood to adulthood, had an average 6 percent lower pulse wave velocity compared to those who ate the least vegetables and fruits.
  • The number of lifestyle risk factors (low vegetable consumption, low fruit consumption, low physical activity and smoking) in childhood was directly associated with pulse wave velocity as an adult. This association remained significant when adjusted for the number of lifestyle risk factors in adulthood.

“These findings suggest that a lifetime pattern of low consumption of fruits and vegetables is related to arterial stiffness in young adulthood,” Kahonen said. “Parents and pediatricians have yet another reason to encourage children to consume high amounts of fruits and vegetables.”

Among limitations of the study, researchers derived the data from a self-reported food frequency questionnaire of monthly consumption instead of daily, which could underestimate associations. The study also was limited to white European participants.

Co-authors are Heikki Aatola, M.D.; Teemu Koivistoinen, M.D., M.Sc.; Nina Hutri-Kahonen, M.D., Ph.D.; Markus Juonala, M.D., Ph.D.; Vera Mikkila, Ph.D.; Terho Lehtimaki, M.D., Ph.D.; Jorma S.A.Viikari, M.D., Ph.D.; Olli T. Raitakari, M.D., Ph.D.; and Mika Kahonen, M.D., Ph.D. Author disclosures and funding information are on the manuscript.

Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association’s policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations are available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

NR10- 1182 (Circ/Kahonen)

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SOURCE American Heart Association

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