Wednesday, Dec 17, 2008
Many people have the idea that they can enjoy life in their younger years, eat and drink whatever they want, do whatever they like, and not have to worry about diseases or illnesses until they are much older. Well, the evidence is building up against such a mentality. In a small study which was presented at the American Heart Association’s recent annual meeting in New Orleans, researchers took a peek inside the neck arteries of a group of children and teens. Alarmingly, they saw cardiovascular systems which looked more like they belonged to middle-aged 45 year olds.
Details of Study
Using ultrasound imaging, the study team measured the thickness of the inner walls of carotid arteries which bring blood to the brain. Higher carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) is a sign of plaque or fatty deposit buildup in important arteries which lead to the heart and the brain. This restricts blood flow and can cause stroke and heart attacks.
The children and teenagers involved in the study were aged 6 to 19, with the average age at 13 and the majority from 10 to 18. Their CIMT measurements were then compared to adult plaque levels. The numbers did not make for good reading at all.
Findings of Study
On average, the children’s mean CIMT was 0.45 millimeters, with the highest hitting 0.75 millimeters. One particular 12 year old boy had a reading of 0.54 millimeters, which is right in the middle of the healthy range for a 45 year old man (i.e. 0.50 to 0.57 millimeters).
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More than 50% of the 70 young persons who were involved in the study were, by “vascular age” terms, about 3 decades older than their actual age. “There’s a saying that you’re as old as your arteries. These kids are showing up with arteries that show middle-aged conditions,” said Dr Geetha Raghuveer, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine, the leader of the study. This means that the children, at such a tender age, are at risk for heart attacks, stroke, and death.
“If I see a kid with a 0.54 plaque in his carotid artery, a 12-year-old kid, I’m going to be concerned,” Dr Raghuveer also said.
Further, the study team found that some of the youngsters had triglyceride levels which were far above the healthy range. In addition, those with poor cholesterol profiles, either too high for the “bad” or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or too low for the “good” or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, as well as those who were obese, with body mass index (BMI) in the top 5 percentile, had the highest risk. And with statistics showing that more than one in six children aged 2 to 19 in the United States being considered obese, there might be a ticking time bomb waiting to blow up.
Young People Living in Aged Bodies
You might think such shocking findings might be groundbreaking. But, in reality, they are nothing new. Other studies previously conducted had found increasing numbers of children with narrowed and hardened arteries. Indeed, autopsy studies had uncovered a strong association between the onset of heart disease and risk factors in the young.
These are conditions which usually develop during adulthood. It is hard to imagine how degenerate our diets and lifestyles must have become that we have managed to accelerate the disease-development and aging processes by this much. “It kind of hammers home that the risk might be speeded up. It does kind of fit with the concept that kids with high cholesterol and other risk factors probably have premature aging factors,” said Dr Stephen Daniels, the chief pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital in Denver.
While, according to Dr Samuel S Gidding, chief of pediatric cardiology at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., children and teenagers do not usually get heart attacks, they can still be at risk for getting the early signs of heart disease. And he feels that a proactive attitude is critical. He advises that changing one’s diet and increasing the amount of exercise can slow down or perhaps even stop the degeneration process.
The Bottom Line
But of course. Dietary and lifestyle factors form the two pillars of optimum health, perhaps none more so than in the case of heart health. The young ones need to stop downing those burgers and sodas and start eating right. They need to stop rotting on their couches and start running and playing in the sun again, like they used to in years gone by. After all, there is just so much evidence mounting on the accelerating rates of deterioration of our children’s bodies that things have gone beyond merely alarming.
It is frightening to think how unhealthy the majority of the population is going to be in ten, twenty or thirty years’ time. Unless most of us do something about it now, of course.
This article was posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 at 4:56 am