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Teens eating way to heart disease, prevent with these 3 tips

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Teens well on way to heart disease

According to a new study from the American Heart Association (AHA), a whopping 80 percent of American teenagers are eating foods that will make them prime candidates for heart disease. The study’s researchers reported their findings Monday, saying teens in the U.S. are eating too much fat, salt and sugar and not eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Only one percent of the teenage participants in the study consumed what the AHA considers a perfectly healthy diet. And to make matters worse, they don’t exercise enough, said study leader Christina Shay from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

“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,” Shay said.

Obesity in America has been a long-standing problem that affects people of all ages. But during the teen years – a time when the body is undergoing rapid changes and hormonal fluctuations – eating the wrong foods can set into motion a pattern of poor diet choices that continues well into adulthood. By then, the toll of eating an unhealthy diet often manifests itself in the form of poor health.

Physicians and the AHA are concerned because teenagers tend to get away with eating the wrong foods, especially since their young bodies are still growing. Indeed, many parents look the other way when it comes to their teenager’s poor eating habits, making excuses that they’re just teenagers who are going through a growth spurt.

The problem, however, is that growth spurt may turn into the growth of something unwanted – like a growing girth that leads to the accumulation of fatty deposits inside their arteries. And that, in turn, can lead to obesity – one of the major contributors to heart disease and other health problems.

If that’s not enough to prompt parents to start monitoring their children’s diets, perhaps the following will:

“Autopsy findings reported more than a century ago identified fatty streaks in the large arteries of children as young as 6 years of age,” Shay’s team wrote in their report, published in the journal Circulation.

Indeed, more recent studies have found actual evidence of early heart disease in children.

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For this new study, researchers surveyed 4,600 teenagers taking part in a large national study, whereby they were asked detailed questions about what they ate and how much they exercised. The teens also had medical examinations where they were weighed and had their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels checked.

As a result, the researchers found that less than 80 percent of the teens scored well when it came to eating the right foods. In fact, only one percent met the ideal guidelines set by the AHA, which consists of 4.5 or more cups of fruits and vegetables per day, 3 ounces of whole grains per day, 2 servings of fish per week, no more than 1,500 mg of salt per day, and less than 450 calories worth of sugary drinks per week.

Of all the teens participating in the study, just 45 percent had scores that were considered acceptable for five or more factors – and more boys (67%) than girls (44%) reported ideal exercise levels. However, the girls (90%) beat the boys (78%) when it came to having normal blood pressure. When it came to an ideal weight, only one-third of both boys and girls had it. Another one-third of the teens had high cholesterol levels.

Meanwhile, all those “Just say NO” ads appear to have been effective, with nearly 70 percent of the teens having never tried smoking.

Given that heart disease is the number one killer in America, and that it’s 80 percent preventable according to the AHA, the study reveals that teaching teens to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits is the best way to avoid the risk of heart disease later in life.

The AHA has developed the following guidelines to help promote cardiovascular health in teens and children, starting with the health promotion goal, followed by recommendations where appropriate:

• An overall healthy eating pattern - Assess diet at every visit.
• Appropriate body weight - Match energy intake with energy needs for normal growth and development.
• Desirable lipid profile - Make appropriate changes to maintain a healthy weight and achieve weight loss when indicated.
• Desirable blood pressure
• Advocate consumption of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, fish, legumes, poultry, and lean meat.
• Fat intake is unrestricted prior to 2 years of age. After age 2, limit foods high in saturated fats ( • Limit salt intake to • Limit intake of sugar.

• No new initiation of cigarette smoking - Question tobacco use by parents at every visit.
• No exposure to environmental tobacco smoke - Question tobacco use by children at every visit starting at age 10.
• Complete cessation for those who smoke - Provide clear, strong, informed, and personalized counseling against initiation of smoking.
• Advise avoidance of second-hand smoke at home, with friends, at school, or at work.

• Be physically active every day - Assess physical activity at every visit.
• Reduce sedentary time (eg, television watching, computer, video games, or time on the phone) - Advise young people to participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
• Physical activity should be fun for children and adolescents.
• For adolescents, resistance training (10 to 15 repetitions at moderate intensity) can be combined with aerobic activity in an overall activity program.
• Sedentary time should be limited. For example, limit television time to at most 2 hours per day.

SOURCES: American Heart Association (April 1, 2013), Adolescents' poor health behaviors raise risk of heart disease as adults. ScienceDaily; Circulation