Clinical and policy implications
Asked about the clinical implications of the i3C findings, he replied, “At the very least, at this stage, consideration should be given to lowering risk factors in childhood as a greater priority in the cardiovascular disease prevention field.”
From my experience on national committees that look at what we do about cardiovascular prevention in childhood, they generally say we’re unprepared to take a strong stance on this because we have no direct evidence that these risk factors and what underpins them are a genuine problem,” according to Dr. Dwyer.
That’s no longer the case. By the end of the year, the i3C investigators expect to publish their results. As word reaches the public, he expects to finally see a growing momentum for cardiovascular prevention in pediatrics.
“Just imagine saying to a parent, ‘It looks highly likely that if you don’t do anything about the weight your children have put on, or other risk factors, they will be left at the end of childhood with a residual risk for cardiovascular disease that it doesn’t appear can be completely eradicated. It can be reduced by interventions in adulthood, but something’s happened there in childhood that was important.’ I think parents will demand action at that time,” he said.
In an interview,, called the i3C data “incredibly important.”
“The risk factor values that they’re looking at in kids are not abnormal, they’re at the higher range of what we consider very normal, and yet those slightly elevated exposures within the normal range are causing damage. These kids are accruing risk for atherosclerosis down the road, even within what’s considered to be normal ranges,” commented Dr. Lloyd-Jones, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago.
“I think it’s very telling that, early in life, we can delineate trajectories already emerging about how these kids are going to play out the rest of their lives in terms of their atherosclerosis and cardiovascular risk. That’s a very important thing to recognize, and we haven’t always thought that way. We always thought you arrive at your 21st birthday and then things start to matter, and by the time you got to 50, now it really matters. But the truth is the horse is already well out of the barn at age 50 and it’s coming out of the barn at age 21. That’s what the i3C data are starting to tell us: that it’s incredibly important that we move further upstream,” the cardiologist added.
What’s the best way forward?
“We have to create an environment where we tilt the playing field towards healthy choices. Sometimes that means taxation policy: It worked for alcohol and tobacco. Sometimes that means frank prohibition: indoor smoking laws have had a huge beneficial effect on public health. Sometimes it’s more controversial, like taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, but I think that’s an experiment we have to play out to see if it works,” according to Dr. Lloyd-Jones. “I think our best solutions are going to come through policy, environmental change, and lifestyle in the early years because it’s just not practical to think about introducing foreign substances to mass amounts of kids.”
He noted that the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has held two workshops within the past year focused on these very issues.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones, past-honored as the American Heart Association Physician of the Year in recognition of his decades of work with that organization in advancing cardiovascular prevention, said “there’s a very good chance” the AHA will take on a major role in what he anticipates will be a much greater emphasis on cardiovascular prevention starting in early life in order to favorably alter life trajectories.
“Stay tuned in the next few months. We’re coming to a decade change, so as we enter 2020, the AHA will be promulgating its strategic goals for the next decade. The AHA is a much bigger, better-funded organization than it was even 10 years ago, and they’re looking to partner with groups like the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control, [and] the NIH, to actually make major policy initiatives on cardiovascular prevention,” he said.
The i3C study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Dr. Dwyer reported having no financial conflicts of interest.