Forget about acne: Heart disease may be the new teenage rite of passage

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A 7-year study peering into the heart health of 20,000 Canadian teens uncovered that most already have at least one major risk factor for heart disease. The findings, presented this week at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, showed that rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity among the sampling of the country’s 14- and 15-year-olds are shockingly high and appear to be on the upswing.

The most disturbing news was the rise in the number of teens with high cholesterol: from 9% to 16%. “What does this say for the future health of these young teens?” says Beth Abramson, MD, spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. “We are ringing the alarm bell. Every child has the right to grow up healthy.”

While high cholesterol is certainly worrisome, obesity is at the heart of the matter (so to speak). Thirteen percent of Canadian teens are obese. And, of course, it’s hardly a Canadian issue. Among American adolescents (ages 12 to 19), 17 percent are obese (meaning they have a body mass index of 30 or greater). That’s more than triple the number of obese teens in 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 7 in 10 obese U.S. teens already have at least one risk factor for heart disease, the country’s leading cause of death. Obesity also puts children at higher risk of suffering bone and joint problems and sleep disorders, not to mention mental health issues, such as poor self-esteem.