Half the nation’s overweight teens have unhealthy blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar levels that put them at risk for future heart attacks and other cardiac problems, new federal research says. And an even larger proportion of obese adolescents have such a risk, according to the alarming new numbers.
People can keep their risk of heart disease very low if they reach age 45 or 50 at normal weight and with normal blood pressure, normal cholesterol and no diabetes. So these results are not good.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research focused on 3,383 adolescents ages 12 through 19. The youths were part of an intensive national study that involves interviewing, weighing, measuring and performing medical tests on people across the country.
There was some good news. The study found no increase in levels of obesity, high blood pressure or bad cholesterol during the years it covered — 1999 through 2008.
But one measure did get worse: The percentage of adolescents who were diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes rose dramatically, from 9 percent to 21 percent. Pre-diabetics have higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not high enough to count as diabetes.
It’s not clear why the proportion of kids with high blood sugar would increase while the measures for the other heart disease risk factors held steady. It may have something to do with the kind of test used to measure blood sugar.
Adolescents in the study were given a blood test that can give varying results depending on the day or time of day the test is given. Other tests, though more involved and more expensive, are considered more precise.
This study is just a first step to identify problems in youth. More work needs to be done to identify why this is happening and the advantages of using various test methods in this population.
Overall the study found that 50 percent of overweight youths and 60 percent of obese youths had at least one risk factor for future heart disease.
But normal-weight kids aren’t off the hook — 37 percent had at least one risk factor and could face increased chances for heart trouble as adults, the study suggests.