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Adolescent health issues lead to later CVD risk


United States adolescents’ high levels of poor health behaviors and unfavorable cardiovascular risk factors may increase their chances of heart disease as adults, according to a study.

Researchers estimated the current state of cardiovascular health of U.S. adolescents based on the seven cardiovascular health components defined in the American Heart Association’s 2020 impact goals, which include both health behaviors and risk factors: blood pressure, total cholesterol, body mass index, blood glucose, healthy diet, physical activity and smoking. The 4,673 adolescents were ages 12 to 19 and represented about 33.2 million adolescents nationally.

The participants were part of the National Health and Nutrition Surveys and were equally divided between males and females of all major ethnic groups. The number of U.S. adolescents that are categorized as poor, intermediate or ideal for each component of cardiovascular health was described to provide a snapshot of how U.S. adolescents are doing with regard to heart health.

In the study, published April 1 on the website of the journal Circulation, healthy diet score (based on levels of fruits and vegetables, fish, whole-grains salt- and sugar-sweetened beverage intake recommended by the American Heart Association) was the least favorable measure for both boys and girls across ethnic groups, with more than 80% rated as having a poor diet, the researchers said.

“The far-less-than-optimal physical activity levels and dietary intake of current U.S. teenagers is translating into obesity and overweight that, in turn, is likely influencing worsening rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and blood glucose at these young ages,” Christina M. Shay, PhD, MA, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the College of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, said in a news release.

The researchers also found:

• Less than 50% of the adolescents had five or more acceptable levels of health factors (45% of boys and 50% of girls).

• Less than 1% of boys and girls reached ideal healthy diet levels.

• Ideal physical activity levels were reached by 44% of girls and 67% of boys.

• Two-thirds of adolescents had ideal BMI levels (67% of girls and 66% of boys).

• A third of adolescents had total cholesterol levels in intermediate or poor ranges.

An encouraging finding is that the majority of boys and girls never had smoked a cigarette or did not try to smoke one within 30 days of two interviews during the five-year study, the researchers noted.

“The status of heart health during childhood has been shown to be a strong predictor of heart health in adulthood,” Shay said. “Members of the medical and scientific community, parents, teachers and legislators all need to focus their efforts on the prevention and improvement of all aspects of cardiovascular health — particularly optimal physical activity levels and diet — as early in life as possible, beginning at birth.”

The full study is available at


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