From the desk of Doc Smo – First teen smoking, now belly fat!

When I was a youngster, it was a frequent occurrence for your parents’ friends to have a heart attack or even die suddenly from silent heart disease. Living into your 60’s was considered a long life, and heart problems were a frequent companion into middle life. One by one, the medical profession learned to understand and then reduce the risk factors that led to what we now call “coronary heart disease.” We now know that those major risk factors are smoking, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol and fats in the blood.  Over the later part of the 20th century, the medical community both improved the speed of delivery of coronary care as well tirelessly helping people control their risk factors, especially smoking cessation. Followers of my blog will know the stats: We are down to only about 20% of the population smoking in modern America, down from 50% in my childhood.

Just when we were beginning to get a little cocky that the next generation might get rid of heart disease altogether, here comes the obesity epidemic. Just get out your high school yearbook from the 80’s or earlier and compare those string bean friends of yours to today’s kids. No matter what your socioeconomic background, most kids used to be lean. No more: a recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that with obesity comes the cardiovascular risk factors that are eventually expected to lead to more coronary heart disease: hypertension, elevated blood fats, and diabetes. Smoking out and belly fat in. Health officials, get up off those chairs and get busy. You have your next challenge waiting all around you in the form of big bellied teens. Work your “smoking” magic on “soda and chips,” won’t you?

Comments are welcome.  Log onto  for more posts like this or to sound off. Until next time.

Smo Notes:

May Al, et al “Prevalence of cardiovascular disease risk factors among US adolescents, 1999-2008” Pediatrics 2012;129(6):1035

1 Comment

  1. Oh. This is one of my *favorite* topics to discuss. I’m going to have to limit my comments. 🙂

    I think your last two sentences are the crux of the matter. Drop the chips and soda, get rid of the belly fat. But shouldn’t you be saying “drop the sour cream, eggs, and whole milk”? Dietary fat is what the public believes to be the #1 enemy of heart health. In my opinion, that is wrong.

    Chips and soda are more threatening to public health today than all the Hollandaise sauce in the world. Chips and soda contain two of the most controversial, but in my opinion, key players in heart health today.

    The Soda Factor:

    In recent years, the Framington Heart Study has started to find the connection between sugar and metabolic disease. The statistics from this study are interesting:

    Dhingra R, Sullivan L, Jacques PF, Wang TJ, Fox CS, Meigs JB, D’Agostino RB, Gaziano JM, Vasan RS. Soft drink consumption and risk of developing cardiometabolic risk factors and the metabolic syndrome in middle-aged adults in the community. Circulation. 2007; 116:480-488.

    I wish I had a link for this, but 5 years into the Framington study it was seen that in the under 50 group, high cholesterol was at the top of the list for risk factors, although this “high cholesterol group” also showed other risk factors such as obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, and (not surprisingly) high blood sugar. By the time the men turned 50, there was no longer an association between high cholesterol and heart disease- implying that these other factors may possibly carry more weight in predicting cardiovascular health. In my opinion, next to smoking, sugar would be the answer here. We should note that the consumption of excess sugar (or the improper metabolizing of it) will lead to the risk factors of high blood sugar, obesity, and possibly contribute to the lack of desire to exercise.

    The Chips Connection:

    Carbs and vegetable oils. I’m going to ignore the carbs right now and look at the vegetable oils. Long touted as a heart healthy alternative to saturated animal fats, highly processed vegetable oils and margarine have replaced lard and butter. Is this a good change? Probably, if you consider the lard on the shelf at Wal-Mart probably comes from a hormone filled, antibiotic laden, factory farmed pig. I’m not arguing for chips to be manufactured in lard. However, we need to take a look at the overall volume of consumption of these alternative fats. Vegetable oils contain Omega-6. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are good for us, but they need to be in proper ratio to each other. The American Heart Association does not agree with the statement that excess Omega-6 can actually be detrimental to heart health, probably because they would be afraid that such a statement would turn people to excess in the other direction. However, Dr. Bill Lands (a nutritional biochemist who worked for the NIH) feels he has discovered that Arachidonic Acid, a byproduct of Omega-6 from vegetable seed oils, is very closely associated with heart disease. Why? Excess Omega-6 causes chronic inflammation in the body, which can cause hypertension and coronary artery disease, among other things. While Dr. Lands will not be snatching that bottle of Canola Oil from your hands (yet), he would certainly warn of the dangers of consuming too many of these oils (as found in fried foods, chips, processed snacks) and not enough Omega 3s (found in fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, etc). I wish I had the time to better dissect his data and see how I feel about how well his studies were controlled, but I admit I don’t have time to do that right now. However, what I’ve seen at a glance seems to make sense and may reveal a hidden risk factor of heart disease that is not being widely recognized. It would be hubris for us to believe there is nothing more to discover about this topic.

    That’s all for now! Just know that it is a very rare day in this household when sugar is consumed!

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