Improving Heart Health In Kids With Type 1 Diabetes

Armen Hareyan's picture

It's never too early to focus on how to maintain good cardiovascular health, especially for people with type 1 diabetes.

A study underscores the need for regular physical activity among youth, finding that the more active the child, the better the child's cardiovascular risk profile.

Heart disease is the number one killer of people with diabetes. Among type 1 patients as young as 20-39 years, the risk of dying from cardio- and cerebrovascular events is five times higher than it is for people who don't have diabetes. Previous studies have shown that the development of atherosclerotic lesions begins in childhood and that 69 percent of pediatric patients with type 1 diabetes exhibit one or more cardiovascular risk factors.


A new study by researchers in Germany and Austria, which looked at the physical activity levels and cardiovascular health of more than 23,000 young people between the ages of 3 and 18, found that those who were most physically active were the least likely to be at risk for heart disease. As physical activity levels rose, the study showed, risk factors such as high lipid profiles, diastolic blood pressure, and blood glucose levels fell.

Specifically, as physical activity rose, the percentage of patients with high cholesterol and triglycerides decreased, from 41.2 percent (for those with no regular physical activity) to 36 percent (for those who were active once or twice a week), down to 34.4 percent for those who were active three or more times per week. Regular physical activity was defined as exercising for at least 30 minutes at a time, not including school sports.

The study found that those who were active at least once or twice per week were also less likely to have high blood pressure than those who didn't exercise at all. And, it showed that the frequency of regular physical activity "was one of the most important influencing factors for HbA1c." The A1c test measures average blood glucose levels over a period of 2-3 months and helps a person with diabetes determine how well they are keeping blood glucose levels under control overall.

A previous study, published in the June issue of Diabetes Care, found that the more television children with type 1 diabetes watched, the less they were able to keep blood glucose levels under control.

"Clearly, getting off the couch and out of doors where they can be more physically active is good for all kids," said lead researcher Dr. Antje Herbst, of the Department of Pediatrics of the Hospital of Leverkusen in Germany. "But for children with type 1 diabetes, the need to stay physically active is even greater, due to the increased risk for heart disease. Maintaining a physically active lifestyle is something we need to encourage during childhood so that these kids build a habit they can continue for a lifetime."