Today's teens will die younger of heart disease

A new study that takes a complete snapshot of adolescent cardiovascular health in the United States reveals a dismal picture of teens who are likely to die of heart disease at a younger age than adults do today, reports Northwestern Medicine research.

"We are all born with ideal cardiovascular health, but right now we are looking at the loss of that health in youth," said Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., chair and associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "Their future is bleak."

Lloyd-Jones is the senior investigator of the study presented Nov. 16 at the Scientific Sessions in Orlando.

The effect of this worsening teen health is already being seen in young adults. For the first time, there is an increase in rates in younger adults ages 35 to 44, particularly in women, Lloyd-Jones said.

The alarming health profiles of 5,547 children and adolescents, ages 12 to 19, reveal many have high , are obese or overweight, have a lousy diet, don't get enough and even smoke, the new study reports. These youth are a representative sample of 33.1 million U.S. children and adolescents from the 2003 to 2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.

"Cardiovascular disease is a lifelong process," Lloyd-Jones said. "The plaques that kill us in our 40s and 50s start to form in adolescence and . These risk factors really matter."

"After four decades of declining deaths from , we are starting to lose the battle again," Lloyd-Jones added.

The American Heart Association (AHA) defines ideal cardiovascular health as having optimum levels of seven well-established , noted lead study author Christina Shay, who did the research while she was a postdoctoral fellow in preventive medicine at Northwestern's Feinberg School. Shay now is an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

"What was most alarming about the findings of this study is that zero children or adolescents surveyed met the criteria for ideal cardiovascular health," Shay said. "These data indicate ideal cardiovascular health is being lost as early as, if not earlier than the teenage years."

The study used measurements from the AHA's 2020 Strategic Impact Goals for monitoring in adolescents and children. Among the findings:


All the 12-to-19-year-olds had terrible diets, which, surprisingly, were even worse than those of adults, Lloyd-Jones said. None of their diets met all five criteria for being healthy. Their diets were high in sodium and sugar-sweetened beverages and didn't include enough fruits, vegetables, fiber or lean protein.

"They are eating too much pizza and not enough whole foods prepared inside the home, which is why their sodium is so high and fruit and vegetable content is so low," Lloyd-Jones said.


More than 30 percent of boys and more than 40 percent of girls have elevated blood sugar, putting them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.


Thirty-five percent of boys and girls are overweight or obese. "These are startling rates of overweight and obesity, and we know it worsens with age," Lloyd-Jones said. "They are off to a bad start."


Approximately 38 percent of girls had an ideal physical activity level compared to 52 percent of boys.


Girls' cholesterol levels were worse than boys'. Only 65 percent of girls met the ideal level compared to 73 percent of boys.


Almost 25 percent of teens had smoked within the past month of being surveyed.


Most boys and girls (92.9 percent and 93.4 percent, respectively) had an ideal level of blood pressure.

The problem won't be easy to fix. "We are much more sedentary and get less physical activity in our daily lives," Lloyd-Jones said. "We eat more processed food, and we get less sleep. It's a cultural phenomenon, and the many pressures on our health are moving in a bad direction. This is a big societal problem we must address."

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Nov 16, 2011
"Today's teens will die younger of heart disease"

All of them? Who writes these headlines?

On a more serious note, these dire predictions fly in the face of every other statistic which shows that today's children will live longer than any other humans ever born.

Don't misunderstand. It's an important issue and needs to be addressed, but some realism would be welcome. Our health sciences our on the verge of wiping out the few remaining diseases which have caused early death in humans. Of course, "lifestyle diseases" will be taking their place. But I don't see anywhere that these scientists are predicting earlier mortality for our children. So, why the headline?

Nov 17, 2011
Maybe they would die of heart disease, or medical advances would make the prediction wrong. Still, to survive with all the advanced medical care (and maybe regular intake of defensive medicines) while lugging obese bodies around will be a real drag on every aspects of daily life including sex life. Also, the difficulty in whipping these out of shape potential recruits down to size and into shape for defending the country can't be understated.
Sometimes I have a feeling that wars and disasters are drastic means of The Unknown Designer to occasionally weed and strengthen the human race by the resulting forced diets and hardship?

Nov 17, 2011
Maybe they would die of heart disease, or medical advances would make the prediction wrong. Still, to survive with all the advanced medical care (and maybe regular intake of defensive medicines) while lugging obese bodies around will be a real drag on every aspects of daily life including sex life.

True, overall health needs to improve. My concern is that medical advances will make the concept of "take a pill and stay slim" a possibility, even further reducing the motivation to exercise when, in fact, exercise brings about a whole spectrum of physiological changes that are beneficial (beyond just weight maintenance).

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