Study indicates half of young adults have heart disease risk factors
In 1979, Rutgers saw its first fat sandwich. Thirty years later, these items are a University staple, but many, such as Graduate School of New Brunswick second-year student Ram Tripathi, avoid the unhealthy sandwiches.
More than 50 percent of young adults show a risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD), said Ingrid Lofgren, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Rhode Island.
“We don’t necessarily think about young adults and heart disease (because) it’s not something very immediate,” she said. “It’s not part of the research done on young adults ... it’s more centered around sex, drugs and alcohol ... which have a very immediate impact.”
Lofgren was the senior author in a paper released last year analyzing coronary heart disease risk in young adults, or people aged 18 to 24.
Different risk factors were assessed in participants in the study, she said. These include anthropometric, biochemical, clinical and dietary risk factors, or “ABCD risk factors.”
Body weight and body mass index are anthropometric, and include how much weight per unit height a person has, she said.
Biochemical factors include cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream.
“We also have a clinical risk factor, such as blood pressure,” she said. “People with elevated blood pressure (show) a risk factor.”
The last category of risk factors is diet, she said.
Some people are born with a genetic anomaly that may put them at risk for cardiovascular disease at a young age, she said. These people exhibit symptoms at much younger ages than the study focused on.
Children who are 12 or younger might have complications stemming from their genes, she said. Her study focused on young adults, and none of the participants are expected to experience CHD until a few decades have passed.
“We’re talking about people who are seemingly healthy,” she said. “It’s not something that’s going to impact them tomorrow, it’s something that’s going to impact them down the line.”
It is important to pay attention to a rising number of young adults exhibiting the risk factors because they might soon start exhibiting the disease at a younger-than-expected age too, she said.
“We always called (Type 2 diabetes) ‘adult-onset’ because people were getting diagnosed with diabetes later in life,” she said. “But now we’re seeing kids diagnosed at 10 or 12 and we are seeing kids with similar risk factors (for CHD).”
Other aspects of a person’s life will also have an impact, she said. These can include socioeconomic status, family history of CHD and smoking habits.
“So ... if you only have one risk factor, then a lot of times we’re not necessarily super concerned, but when you start looking at a family history and you have LDL cholesterol, then we start being concerned,” she said. “When you look at it all together it can be surprising.”
These factors indicate how likely a person is to have CHD later on in life.
Autopsies were used in conjunction with the analysis of live people to see what they exhibited, she said. These autopsies showed more plaque building up in younger people than initially expected.
Atherosclerotic lesions were also found in 25 percent of the autopsied bodies, she said. These lesions in living people later develop into plaque that can block the flow of blood.
Many of the different factors can lead to lesions forming. High blood glucose, LDL cholesterol or inhaled contaminants from smoking are all able to form these lesions.
Lesions increase blood pressure, which occurs when the heart needs to work harder to pump the same amount of blood, she said. This can then in turn start a “perfect storm” of plaque formation.
Staying moderately in shape would help improve a person’s health down the line, said Gurvinder Sidhu, a Rutgers Business School sophomore.
“People should work out, it doesn’t have to be every day,” he said. “(They should) eat healthy (and they can) check nutrients.”
Fat sandwiches are not conducive to good health, Tripathi said.
“One sandwich has (around) 2,500 calories, something like that,” he said. “I just try to avoid foods that are too fatty. I heard that heart disease is getting more common but that’s a bit high.”
Physical activity, dietary moderation and regular sleeping habits can all help a person stay healthy, Lofgren said. People should also see their doctors for physicals and be aware of any family history of hereditary diseases.
Communicating these concerns to young adults is another challenge.
“How do we communicate risk for something that’s not going to impact you now?” she asked. “We all like to think that we’re invincible, it can be difficult to communicate the fact that what we do now can make it really risky for when we get older.”
Working with college campuses can at least help young adults who live there, she said. Recreational and dining facilities can encourage people to eat healthier and work out more, while a user-friendly campus can let more students walk to class rather than take a bus or car.
“Even if you don’t see the results right now, 20 years from now you’ll thank yourself,” she said.