Today's Generation of Teens at Increased Risk for Cardiovascular Disease

Lifestyle is one of the main building blocks for health.  What you do today can affect your health for years to come.  For that reason a recent report from the CDC is stirring up quite a bit of concern pertaining to teens’ health.  According to the CDC, the number of teens 12 – 19 years old who are diabetic or pre-diabetic has jumped from 9 percent (1999 – 2000) to 23 percent (2007 – 2008) in less than a decade.  What is more troubling, diabetes is one of the controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease, meaning more teens of this generation are at an increased risk for heart attack or stroke than any other generation of teens.

Researchers also examined the incidence of obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure (other leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease) over the nine year period.  Despite the dramatic spike in diabetes, these risk factors remained largely flat or unchanged.  Researchers say, despite the caveat, this study should raise awareness to parents and healthcare providers to screen children and adolescents for obesity, diabetes, and other cardiovascular disease risk factors.  Taking the appropriate steps to modify behavior and decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease now can have a dramatic impact later in life.

Modify Behavior to Reduce Risk Factors

The Center for Diabetes Management at Hillcrest Medical Center advises parents to remember the goal for overweight and obese children and teens is to reduce the rate of weight gain, while allowing normal growth and development.  It is important to balance the calories children consume through the foods and beverages with the calories they burn through physical activity.  However, children and teens should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider.

Take These Steps

Encourage healthy eating habits by providing children and teens plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.  Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products in their diet.  For protein, choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans.  Remember you don’t have to fill the plate.  Serve reasonably-sized portions and try substituting water for sugar-sweetened beverages as much as possible. 

Make healthy decision making easier for your children by reducing the calorie-rich, high-fat, and high-sugar temptations available in your home.  It is okay to have the occasional salty snack or treat, but remind your children that is what they are: treats to be enjoyed in moderation.  Easy-to-prepare healthy snacks may include a medium-size banana or apple, a cup of grapes, or a cup of carrots with hummus.  Eating healthy snack options will allow your children and teens to actively participate in the day, instead of riding the up and down energy wave from sugar.

When you are fueled with the right foods, you have the energy for physical activity, an important component in balancing caloric intake.   While it is important to have some downtime for reading or homework, it is also important to remember too much downtime will offset the caloric balance.  The CDC recommends children and teens have at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week, if not daily. The best way to encourage your children to be more physically active is to be a great example to them as well.  Great ideas for physical activity include:

·         Brisk walking

·         Jumping rope

·         Playing soccer

·         Dancing


If you are concerned about your child’s overall health and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, consult with your child’s pediatrician.