Caribbean teens showing risk factors for heart disease

| 24/04/2012

overweight-teens_3.24.jpg(CNS): An increase in the incidence of cardio vascular disease in Trinidad prompted a study on whether risks for the disease develop in teenage years. The results – revealed last week – showed that a significant number of young people are demonstrating risk factors, such as leading sedentary lifestyles, eating fast food and smoking, which could lead to them developing cardio vascular disease in later life. Surveying a cross section of teens, doctors in Trinidad focused on gender, ethnic background and age and found that the sector most likely to be smoking – one of the key risk factors for heart disease – was 14 year old girls of African descent.   

Fourth year medical student Azizah Fyzul presented her team’s findings at this year’s Caribbean Health Research Council’s 57th Annual Council and Scientific Meetings, held last week at the Marriott Beach Resort. Fyzul said that cardio vascular disease was the number one killer in Trinidad.

The risk factors associated with the disease could be split into modifiable and non-modifiable, she said.

“While there is little we can do about aging, our genetics and our gender, much can be done to reduce the levels of obesity, smoking, hypertension and physical activity,” she said. “It is believed that the presence of these modifiable risk factors in childhood result in atherosclerotic changes [hardening of the arteries] as early as seven to eight years. The number and/or severity of these factors positively influence the probability of developing cardio vascular disease.”  

Following a report in the Trinidad press that the average lifespan of its citizens had been reduced by 14 years because of an increase in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, Fyzulsaid there had been a renewed interest in the early detection of these modifiable factors.

For their study, Fyzul and her team measured 1,896 adolescents for the occurrence of risk factors including their use of tobacco, their levels of physical activity and inactivity, the frequency at which they consumed unhealthy fast food and their Body Mass Index. Fyzul said that while many of the students had normal BMI ratings, a substantial amount had a BMI of 25 or more, making them either overweight or obese. She said, perhaps unsurprisingly, that there were higher numbers of those with a BMI over 25 where the adolescents admitted to eating fast food more than once a day. Smoking, she said, began at the age of 13, with African females the highest consumer of tobacco, peaking at 14 year olds. 

44.6 per cent of adolescents surveyed had more than two risk factors associated with cardio vascular disease. The most common risk factor was the consumption of fast food at 79.8 per cent while the least common risk factor was smoking at 12 per cent. 30.4 per cent of those studied were either overweight or obese, a figure that was backed up by a Trinidad Ministry of Health survey which found one in four people overweight. Those with the highest BMIs were African females followed by East Indian males. 18 and 14 year olds had the highest BMI findings. Overall the overweight or obese teens spent a significant amount of time (up to three hours a day) watching TV or playing electronic games.

The study found that a significant number of teenagers in Trinidad had two or more risk factors that could lead to CVD.

“Based upon previous research these findings have undoubtedly placed the students well within the models used to predict heart disease later in life,” the report concluded.
At the end of her presentation, Fyzul warned: “We can continue to search for medical solutions to treat these issues or we can work to reduce the modifiable risk factors.”

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