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Adolescents are eating their way to heart disease


The adolescent diet of fat, salt, and sugar is leading US teenagers on the path to early cardiovascular disease, according to new research from the American Heart Association.

The adolescent diet of fat, salt, and sugar is leading US teenagers on the path to early cardiovascular disease, according to new research from the American Heart Association (AHA).

Researchers surveyed 4,673 adolescents aged 12 to 19 years from the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, representing 33 million US teenagers. Participants answered questions about their eating and exercise habits and were given medical examinations. Results were analyzed according to AHA criteria for cardiovascular health and rated as poor, intermediate, or ideal levels.

Data showed that none of the study participants met ideal levels for all 7 cardiovascular health behaviors and less than half met 5 or more of the 7 standards: no smoking, body mass index, dietary intake, physical activity, blood pressure, blood glucose, and total cholesterol.

Two-thirds of the study group reported ideal smoking status (never tried smoking) and two-thirds displayed ideal body mass index (<85th percentile). However, healthy diet was the poorest score for all participants, with less than 1% of both boys and girls meeting 4 of 5 dietary criteria for consumption of vegetables, fish, whole grains, sodium, and sugar. The study group also showed low marks for physical activity. Only 67% of boys and 44% of girls reached the ideal level of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

Highest ideal scores were for blood pressure below the 90th percentile (78% of boys, 90% of girls), fasting blood glucose below 100 mg/dL (74% of boys, 89% of girls), and total cholesterol below 170 mg/dL (72% for boys, 65% for girls).

The AHA cautions that unhealthy behaviors in childhood lead to cardiovascular disease in adulthood, and there is evidence that atherosclerosis in large arteries begins as early as age 6 years. If unchecked, poor dietary and other lifestyle factors will worsen the prevalence of obesity, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and dysglycemia as current US adolescents become adults, says AHA, but the good news is that nearly 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable through optimal health behaviors begun early in life.

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