The high stakes of heart disease in children
With obesity occurring in 1 in 5 children, identifying heart disease in young children is more critical than ever.
Juice Staff Published: 2/9/2018
If you ask the mother of Shawyntee Mayo, MD, she will tell you she always knew that her daughter would become a doctor. Herself a pediatric psychiatric nurse in New York City, Dr. Mayo's mother worked with her fair share of doctors and knew what it would take for her own little girl to grow up and fill those shoes. She knew her daughter was made of the same stuff.
It wasn’t until Dr. Mayo began her residency at Duke University Medical Center that she knew the field to which she would inevitably dedicate her life. Inspired by her mentor, Brenda Armstrong, MD, the second female African American pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Mayo began her path to becoming a pediatric preventive cardiologist.
“She’s an amazing woman,” said Dr. Mayo. “I wasn’t sure which field I was going to end up in, but then I met Dr. Armstrong and I knew I wanted to be in pediatric preventive cardiology.”
It might come as a surprise that the field of preventive cardiology even exists for the pediatric population. Why do the young ones in America need this sort of care in the first place? Whether it’s because of lack of knowledge or simply the lack of resources, many children today are leading unhealthy lifestyles that result in obesity, high cholesterol and other complications that you don’t think of presenting themselves until one has reached adulthood.
Childhood obesity certainly is not a new epidemic, but it is at an all-time high. Currently, it is estimated that one in five children and adolescents (or 12.5 million) ages 2–19 years old are obese. Obesity is associated with serious health risks, particularly those associated with the heart. High blood pressure, coronary heart disease and high cholesterol are just some of the ways that obesity can affect the health of children today and even more so when they become adults.
While lifestyle choices are one of the key factors that can lead to obesity and high cholesterol levels, an individual doesn’t have to be obese to have high readings. Certain genetic factors and disorders can lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels. Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is an inherited disorder that leads to aggressive and premature cardiovascular disease. For those with FH, although diet and lifestyle are important, they are not the cause of high cholesterol. In these patients, genetic mutations make the liver incapable of removing excess cholesterol.
Dr. Mayo, previously with Children’s Medical Center Dallas, is now with Wolfson Children’s Hospital and is also an assistant professor with the University Of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville. She serves alongside other nationally renowned pediatric cardiologists, electrophysiologists and cardiovascular surgeons at Terry Heart Center at Wolfson Children's Hospital, as well as the physicians at the UF Pediatric Weight Management Center. She says the childhood obesity epidemic has made it more important than ever for children to be screened for risk factors of adult heart disease, and Dr. Mayo and her colleagues are committed to serve the children in Northeast Florida, Southeast Georgia and well beyond.
“It’s so much more than just identifying the risk,” explained Dr. Mayo. “It’s about teaching a whole new lifestyle and supporting the entire family in that lifestyle change”
Dr. Mayo and the physicians, psychologists, dietitians and staff in the Pediatric Weight Management Center offer a family-centered and team-based approach to their care. A mother to a toddler, Dr. Mayo can empathize with the parents accompanying their child in the exam room.
“I have never met a parent who didn’t want what was best for their child,” she said. “They are here because they know their child needs our help, and I support and applaud that. As a parent, it isn’t always easy to ask for help. Once I became a mother, I had a new appreciation for what they might be feeling during that first appointment.”