Bad health habits tend to follow teenagers into adulthood, increasing the odds they’ll suffer heart problems as adults.
That’s the key finding of a new study that indicates adolescents who don’t eat a healthy diet or get enough exercise are far more likely to be treated for cardiovascular disease later in life. The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found more than 80 percent of 4,673 adolescents tracked by researchers had a poor diet and a substantial percentage were not physically active.
"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," said researcher Christina M. Shay, an assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the College of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.
For the study, Shay and her colleagues estimated the current state of cardiovascular health of U.S. adolescents based on the seven risk factors defined by the American Heart Association: blood pressure, total cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), blood glucose, healthy diet, physical activity, and smoking.
The 4,673 adolescents included in the study were 12 to 19 years old and represented about 33.2 million adolescents nationally.
Among the researchers’ findings:
- Less than 50 percent of the adolescents had five or more acceptable levels of the health factors (45 percent boys and 50 percent girls).
- Less than 1 percent of boys and girls achieved ideal healthy diet scores (based on levels of fruits and vegetables, fish, whole-grains, salt, and sugary beverage intake recommended by the recommended by the American Heart Association) — with more than 80 percent rated as having a poor diet.
- Forty-four percent of the girls and 67 percent of the boys reached ideal physical activity levels.
- Two-thirds of adolescents had ideal BMI levels, 67 percent for girls compared to 66 percent for boys.
- One-third of adolescents had total cholesterol levels in intermediate or poor ranges.
"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 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded the study.
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