Cardiovascular disease risk factors are health conditions that can put stress on your heart and blood vessels. They can increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels (diabetes or prediabetes), high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol. Adults have these risk factors more often than children because it usually takes time for these risk factors to develop. However, there are a growing number of children that are developing these risk factors.
Researchers from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors in adolescents. The results, published in Pediatrics, showed that cardiovascular risk factors were found in a significant number of adolescents. Overweight and obese adolescents were more likely to have these risk factors than those who were normal weight.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is a large study from the CDC. It gathers information about the health and nutrition of nearly 6,000 children and adults in the United States each year using surveys. The information is collected and examined for trends. Data in this study was gathered from surveys given from 1999 to 2008. This study specifically looked at the incidence of cardiovascular risk factors in 3,383 children aged 12-19 years old and their body mass index (BMI). BMI is used to determine if your bodyweight is in the ideal range, overweight range, or underweight range for your height.
About 34% of the children included in this review were overweight or obese. Overall:
- 14% had prehypertension or hypertension (high blood pressure)
- 22% had borderline or high bad cholesterol(low-density lipoprotein [LDL])
- 6% had low good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein [HDL])
- 15% had prediabetes or diabetes
At least one risk factor was present in:
- 37% of children in normal weight range
- 50% of children who were overweight
- 60% of children who were obese
This study is an observational study. This means that data is simply observed and collected; the researchers do not intervene in the participants' lives. Several factors may influence the outcomes, in an observational trial, researchers do not control for these factors. As a result, observational studies are less reliable than other types of trials, but are helpful when looking for trends in large groups of people.
Overweight or obesity in childhood is already associated with a series of health, psychological, and social problems. It is also linked to an increased risk of obesity in adulthood. The fact that children who are overweight or obese show an increase in signs of cardiovascular disease risk factors is equally disturbing. Fortunately, these risk factors are largely influenced by lifestyle choices. Regular physical activity and eating healthy can make a significant impact on cardiovascular risk factors and overall health. Changing poor health habits like eating high fat and sugary snacks and spending lots of time doing activities like playing computer gaming or watching television may be a good start. All children, whether in the ideal weight range or overweight, should be encouraged to make healthy lifestyle choices. Set a good example by adopting your own healthy lifestyle and creating physical activities the whole family can participate in. Healthy habits at a young age will make it much more likely that your child will become a healthy adult.
May AL, Kuklina EV, Yoon PW.
Prevalence of cardiovascular disease risk factors among US adolescents, 1999-2008.
Pediatrics. 2012 Jun;129(6):1035-41.
Last reviewed August 2012 by Brian P. Randall, MD
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