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