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Study Finds Association Between Heart Disease And Unhealthy Adolescence

The risk factors for adult coronary heart disease are associated with unhealthy lifestyles from the teen years, according to researchers at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio.

People could probably eliminate 90 percent of heart attacks if children were eating right and getting enough exercise from the start, rather than waiting to treat them for diseases that show up decades later as a result of unhealthy habits, said Dr. Henry C. McGill Jr., senior scientist emeritus at the foundation.

For the Pathobiological Determinants of Atherosclerosis in Youth (PDAY) study, McGill and research scientists from 13 other institutions across the country have been studying risk factors for adult coronary heart disease (lipoproteins, blood pressure, blood glucose, smoking, obesity) in young people since 1987. They collected tissue and data from about 3,000 young persons 15 through 34 years of age – all of whom had died of accidents, homicide or suicide and were autopsied in forensic laboratories – and measured atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

“What we’ve found through literally decades of study is that the beginning of atherosclerosis can be detected in children as young as 12 years old. They may be in their 40s or 50s or 60s when they experience a heart attack, but the build-up of deposits in the artery walls began many years earlier, when they were kids,” McGill said.

The results show conclusively that the risk factors for adult coronary heart disease are associated with the progression of atherosclerosis beginning in the teen years, an association is so strong a McGill asserts that prevention of adult coronary heart disease should begin with control of risk factors beginning in adolescence.

McGill said the two common risk factors that almost anyone can do something about are smoking and obesity, both of which fall on the responsibility of parents.

“If you’re a parent, don’t smoke. Eat healthy. Exercise. Set the right example. If you’re eating a lot of junk food, smoking and letting yourself become overweight, you’re teaching your kids to do the same thing. But it doesn’t cost a thing to change those habits.”

For more information on the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, visit

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