Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Stroke Increasingly Prevalent in Young People

November 2, 2009
Julia Ernst, MS

A new study by researchers in Canada shows that a majority of high school freshmen have at least one major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. These factors include obesity and elevated cholesterol levels, two problems that are also common in America. Results of the study may serve as a guide for US physicians to monitor and work to change heart disease and stroke risk in teenagers.

A new study by researchers in Canada shows that a majority of high school freshmen have at least one major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. These factors include obesity and elevated cholesterol levels, two problems that are also common in America. Results of the study may serve as a guide for US physicians to monitor and work to change heart disease and stroke risk in teenagers.

In addition to obesity and cholesterol, blood pressure and what the researchers called “one or more cardiovascular risk factors” also increased. The researchers examined the lifestyles of the teenagers, which showed that levels of physical activity declined 6% over the six-year study, and sedentary behavior — defined as 20 or more hours per week of TV or video games — increased by 2%. In addition, the teens did not have good nutrition factors. Only half of those included in the study were getting the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables.

“Unfortunately, our kids’ gaming superheroes are getting better workouts than they are,” says Dr. Beth Abramson, spokesperson for the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation. “With changing technologies, we to need to exercise our bodies more than our brains.”

Between 2002 and 2008, the researchers examined the heart health of 20,719 grade 9 students between 14 and 15 years old. Cholesterol was the most elevated factor for the children, which increased from 9% to 16% over the six-year period. One of the other risk factors, high blood pressure, is the leading cause of stroke and a “major” risk factor for heart disease, according to the researchers.

“One of the things we already know is that it is the number of risk factors you have that really accelerates the whole process,” said Dr. Brian McCrindle, a cardiologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. “And when you have a healthy looking kid in front of you, it’s easy to miss the invisible time bomb waiting do go off.”

Findings of the study were presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2009.