Many teens have cardiovascular disease risk factors

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
cardiovascular disease, CVD, teens, obesity, lifestyle choices

The current obesity epidemic in the United States is impacting the health of Americans. According to a new study, many normal-weight teens were at risk for cardiovascular disease; furthermore, as weight increased, so did CVD risk. Researchers affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 37% of normal-weight teens had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD); 49% of overweight teens had one or more risk factors; and 61% of obese adolescents had one or more risk factors.

The findings were published online on May 21 in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers reviewed analyzed data on 3,383 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 years who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). NHANES is across-sectional, stratified, multistage probability sample survey of the US civilian, non-institutionalized population between 1999 and 2008.


During the survey period from 1999 through 2008, the investigators found that among the study group, the overall prevalence was 14% for prehypertension/hypertension, 22% for borderline-high/high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL; “bad cholesterol”), 6% for low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL; “good cholesterol”), and 15% for pre-diabetes/diabetes. No significant change in the prevalence of prehypertension/hypertension (17% and 13%) and borderline-high/high LDL cholesterol (23% and 19%) was observed during that period; however, the prevalence of pre-diabetes/diabetes increased from 9% to 23%. A consistent increase was found for the prevalence of each of these CVD risk factors was found as weight increased (normal weight: 37%; overweight: 49%; and obese: 61%).

Ashleigh L. May, PhD, an epidemic intelligence service officer in the Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the CDC and colleagues concluded that the results of their study revealed that US adolescents carry a substantial burden of CVD risk factors, especially those teens who are overweight or obese. They noted that CVD risk factors are often present during childhood and adolescence; however, the overt manifestations of these risk factors, such as heart attack and stroke, do not usually emerge until adulthood.

Take home message:
CVD is currently the most common cause of death worldwide. CVD usually affects older adults; however, the precursors of the disease, notably atherosclerosis begin in early life. Therefore, primary preventive measures should begin in childhood. Genetic factors play a part in CVD risk and this risk cannot be altered. However, even an individual without risk factors can be at significant risk due to lifestyle choices. As the study indicates, being overweight increases the risk of CVD; thus, maintaining a normal body mass index (BMI) is important. A regular exercise program is important. Avoidance of smoking (or exposure to secondhand smoke) will significantly reduce the risk of CVD.

Reference: Pediatrics