Teenagers are well on their way to developing heart disease at such a young age! But there are heart-healthy things we can do at home to help them get their lives moving in a healthy direction.
Teenagers are well on their way to developing heart disease
at such a young age! Yes, these were the
findings of a recent study of nearly 5,000 teens that was just published in the
prestigious medical journal Circulation.
Our current generation of teenagers will be one of the first
generations to be sicker and die younger than their parents.
In this study, they looked at how well our teenagers met the
7 goals of the American Heart Association (AHA) which include a normal blood
pressure, healthy diet, normal cholesterol, daily physical activity, normal
glucose levels, normal weight, and not smoking.
Unfortunately, less than half of our teenagers meet even 5
of these 7 goals! Interestingly, Mexican
American teenagers were found to have the least unhealthy lifestyle.
The area where they scored the lowest was with a healthy
diet. The healthy diet recommended by
the AHA includes 4 of the 5 following features:
- 4.5 cups of fruits or vegetables daily
- 2 servings of fish each week (ideally a fatty
fish like salmon)
- 3 servings of whole grains each day
- Less than 1,500 mg of sodium each day
- Less than 450 calories of a sugary drink (like
soda pop or energy/sports drinks) each week
Amazingly, less than 1% of all teenagers are eating a
healthy diet! Is it any wonder that
show that the arteries of the heart can start plugging up beginning as young as
Because 80% of all heart disease is completely preventable
with a healthy lifestyle we need to take action now to protect our teens from a
life of sickness and early death!
To help our teens, we need to begin in our homes. We cannot rely on the school systems as
physical education has largely been cut from most school budgets and school
lunches are notoriously unhealthy for our children.
So what can we do in the home to improve the health and
wellness of our teens? While I cannot
speak from experience in raising teenagers as the oldest of my three children
is approaching 11, the same principles apply.
We have found that the 3 simple steps below can go a long
way in improving the health of our children.
- Be Physically Active as a Family
Parents need to model healthy behavior to children if we
have any hope that our will be healthy. Indeed, studies have shown that families who spend their leisure time
together engaged in physical activity are much healthier than those who do
not. In our family, every vacation and
weekend is centered around physical activity. For our family vacations and weekends, we ski, bike, hike, go for a
walk, etc. as a family. Even when we
travel to cities, such as our trip to New York City last year we walked everywhere
- Serve Vegetables and Fruit with Every Meal
Yes, teenagers are not the only ones with unhealthy
diets. Indeed, data from the American
Heart Association has shown that less than 1% of American adults have a healthy
diet as well. In our home, our children eat at least one
serving of fruits and vegetables with every meal, including breakfast. Our children have come to expect a salad or
other vegetables as part of a “normal” breakfast. Knowing the health hazards of eating school
lunch, our children often prepare their own healthy lunch to take to school
each day. Snack time also generally
includes a fruit or a vegetable.
- Avoid Processed Foods
If there is one food group that is probably destroying our
health more than anything else it is all of the processed meats (hot dogs,
bacon, sausage, deli meats), processed snack foods, processed sweets/bakery
items, and processed foods in general (basically any pre-prepared foods). The salt and sugar content of these foods are
beyond comprehension. Is it any wonder
than roughly 50% of all adults in the U.S. have diabetes, high blood pressure,
and high cholesterol? While
our teenagers are not yet at the 50% level for these three silent killers, they
are approaching it fast and at a younger age than has ever before been seen.
The health of our teens is the future health of our
country. If we can just institute these
three simple lifestyle changes in our families today we can prevent a lifetime
of taking medications, disability, and early death. The choice is up to us.
 Circulation. 2013;127:1369-1376
 N Engl J Med. 2005;352:1138–1145
 Circulation. 2012;125:1971–1978
 N Engl J Med. 2000;343:16–22
 Circulation. 2013 Jan 1;127(1):143-52