Heart disease risk factor, diabetes, climbing among US teens, tweens

Published: Monday, May 21 2012 3:04 p.m. MDT

Children's Medical Center employee Terry Wade, left, lines up others behind EmmaLee Duckworth, center, 5, to play in a game of kickball during a program at Children's Medical Center to help families with overweight children get healthier, Tuesday, March 6, 2007, in Dallas. The program is one of many across the United States trying to tackle the issue of childhood obesity by involving the whole family. More than one-third of American children are overweight. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Matt Slocum, AP

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SALT LAKE CITY — Overweight American adolescents are experiencing an increase in their risk for heart disease, and the number with diabetes or pre-diabetes has soared from 9 to 23 percent in less than a decade, according to a study published this week in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at health data on 3,383 youths ages 12 to 19 collected between 1999 and 2008 as part of the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. USA Today notes that the NHANES survey is considered the "gold standard for evaluating health in the USA because it includes a detailed physical examination, taking participants' blood pressure and getting fasting blood sugar levels. Their weight and height are also measured."

A release regarding the study noted that "although heart attacks and stroke usually do not occur until adulthood, cardiovascular risk factors are often present in childhood." It noted that "adolescence represents a window of opportunity to assess these risk factors and promote healthy lifestyles."

A report by Reuters offered this context for the findings: "Type 2 diabetes is closely associated with age, and middle-aged and older adults still account for most cases. In the U.S., it's estimated that almost 26 million people have diabetes — mostly type 2. Adults age 65 and up account for about 11 million of those cases."

The Reuters article noted that type 2 diabetes used to be "almost unheard of in children. But with the rise in childhood obesity in recent decades, more kids have been diagnosed with that form of diabetes, or its potential precursor pre-diabetes."

The study showed about one-third of adolescents are overweight or obese, increasing their risk of problems associated with cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other health problems.

Of the adolescents, 14 percent had prehypertension or actual hypertension, 22 percent had borderline or high levels of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — considered "the bad cholesterol" — and 6 percent had low levels of the "good" cholesterol called HDL or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. "A consistent dose-response increase in the prevalence of each of these CVD risk factors was observed by weight categories, with 37 percent in the normal weight group, 50 percent of those overweight and 60 percent of those who were obese had at least one of these CVD risk factors during the 1999 through 2008 study period."

Obesity itself has been fairly flat during the period that was studied, and the other heart-disease indicators were relatively flat, too. The diabetes increase was significant, as it more than doubled. The researchers took care to note that the finding regarding diabetes must be viewed "with caution" because it resulted from analysis of fasting blood glucose tests, rather than the A1C test that looks at blood sugar averages over a three-month period.

“Nationwide, this is the best sampling of youth to inform us about cardiovascular risk factors,” Dr. Lori Laffel of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, who was not involved in the study, told the New York Times.

New York Times writer Roni Caryn Rabin wrote that Laffel "said that the figure of nearly one in four teens having diabetes or prediabetes was high and that the findings needed to be replicated by other researchers in order to support them. Still, experts and doctors who treat young diabetics said the trend over the past decade was troubling. They were not entirely able to explain why diabetes and pre-diabetes rates had continued to rise while obesity held steady, but they said it may have taken time for the disease to 'catch up' with teenagers who were overweight or sedentary as children."

Regardless, the study concluded that "U.S. adolescents carry a substantial burden of cardiovascular disease risk factors, especially those youth who are overweight or obese.

It bodes ill for the health of the nation's young people, some experts said. Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Larry Deeb, former president of medicine and science for the American Diabetes Association, told USA Today that 'other studies have predicted 'a 64 percent increase in diabetes in the next decade,' which is even higher than the predicted increase in obesity, 'because stress on the pancreas and insulin resistance catches up with people. We are truly in deep trouble. Diabetes threatens to destroy the healthcare system.'"

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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