Children who are sedentary for hours per day may have a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes later in life, according to research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2023.
“All those hours of screen time [for] young people add up to a heavier heart, which we know from studies in adults raises the likelihood of heart attack and stroke,” said study author Dr. Andrew Agbaje, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, in a press release. “Children and teenagers need to move more to protect their long-term health.”
This study is the first to assess the cumulative impact of sedentary time in young people and the potential link to cardiac damage in early adulthood. The analysis was conducted as part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children—known as the Children of the 90s study—which was initiated in 1990 and 1991 and represents one of the world’s largest studies focused on recording lifetime measurements from birth.
The analysis comprised 766 children (55% girls, 45% boys). At 11 years of age, children wore a smartwatch that tracked their activity for 7 days. This process was repeated at age 15 and again at age 24. Subsequently, researchers analyzed the link between sedentary time between the ages of 11 and 24 years and heart measurements between the ages of 17 and 24 years. They adjusted for potentially influencing factors such as age, sex, blood pressure, body fat, smoking, physical activity, and socioeconomic status.
Parents Should Encourage Children to Stay Active
The study found that at age 11, children were sedentary for an average of 362 minutes a day. That number increased to 474 minutes a day by age 15 and 531 minutes a day by age 24. The investigators observed that each 1-minute increase in sedentary time from 11 to 24 years of age was associated with a 0.004 g/m2.7 increase in left ventricular mass between 17 and 24 years of age. They noted that a previous study in adults found that a similar increase in left ventricular mass over a 7-year period correlated with a 2-fold increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and death.
“Our study indicates that the accumulation of inactive time is related to heart damage regardless of body weight and blood pressure,” said Dr. Agbaje. “Parents should encourage children and teenagers to move more by taking them out for a walk and limiting time spent on social media and video games.”