Teen Idlers May Get Real “Heart Throbs”

Cardiovascular disease risk factors can develop in adolescence and lead to heart trouble later

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Unfortunately, many teens today have bad health habits. If they are inactive and eating poorly now, they could be increasing their odds of having heart disease as adults.

As part of the National Health and Nutrition Surveys, teen respondents provided information about the status of their health in terms of seven components—blood pressure, total cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), blood glucose, healthy diet, physical activity and smoking.

Investigators recently examined the data and found that half of teens surveyed did not have acceptable levels in any of these areas, except one—smoking.

Fewer teens appear to be lighting up.

"Encourage teens to exercise and eat healthy."

Christina Shay, PhD, assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the College of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, led the study.

She and her colleagues analyzed data on 4,673 adolescents who were 12 to 19 years old. Nationally, there are about 33.2 million adolescents.

The scientists based their assessment on the responses teens gave regarding the seven cardiovascular health components, as defined by the American Heart Association’s 2020 impact goals.

The biggest strike against teens when it comes to health is in the area of diet. Their healthy diet score was based on levels of fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, salt and sugar-sweetened beverage intake recommended by the American Heart Association. Diet was the least favorable measure for both boys and girls across ethnic groups, according to researchers. More than 80 percent were rated as having a poor diet.

“The far less-than-optimal physical activity levels and dietary intake of current US 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 Dr. Shay.

Other highlights of the study included:

  • 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 reached ideal healthy diet levels.
  • 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 one bright spot was in the category of smoking. The majority of boys and girls had never smoked a cigarette or did not try to smoke one within the past 30 days of two interviews during the five-year study.

“The status of heart health during childhood has been shown to be a strong predictor of heart health in adulthood,” said Dr. Shay. “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.”

Carol Wolin-Riklin, MA, RD, a metabolic and bariatric nutrition coordinator with Minimally Invasive Surgeons of Texas and the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, told dailyRx News, “Physical education was one of the main areas cut from the public school budgets. PE is almost nonexistent in our secondary education institutions despite the proven positive impact activity and encouraging activity has on adolescent health in both the short and long term.”

She also stressed that the food that is put on the table at meal times impacts the long-term health of children.

“It may be easy to grab some fast food for meal times but the consequences long term can affect not only quality of life but quantity of life,” said Wolin-Riklin. “Sometimes we need to stop and think, what do we want for our child’s future as we plan our meal around our current busy schedules.”

The study was published in April in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 10, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013