Youth from Low Income Families Have Higher Prevalence of Heart Disease Risk Factors

Researchers examined the distribution of CVD risks in six to 24-year-olds in the U.S. over the last decade across different socioeconomic groups. The risks included obesity, tobacco exposure, being sedentary and having elevated blood pressure, glucose, lipids, and inflammatory markers.

The findings, consistent across race and ethnic groups, showed that youth between the ages of six and 17 from low-income families have an approximately 50% higher likelihood of being obese, centrally obese (belly fat), and sedentary when compared to the same age group in the highest-income households. They have twice the likelihood of being exposed to harmful levels of tobacco, either through use or exposure to secondhand smoke.

“We know from previous research that adults in low socioeconomic positions are at increased risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and death, but evidence of the relationship between socioeconomic positions and cardiovascular risks in early life is limited and inconsistent,” says Mohammed K. Ali, MBCHB, MSC, assistant professor, Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“From this work, we noted that socioeconomic disparities affect the young, shaping their behaviors, and putting them at risk of serious and persistent cardiovascular risks,” adds Ali.

Ali says to prevent these health behaviors from continuing into adulthood, early and multi-faceted health promotion programs and policies that are able to reach and appeal to the most vulnerable populations need to be evaluated and implemented.

Although there were no notable differences in prevalence between income groups, CVD risks are highly prevalent among 18 to 24-year-olds in the U.S. with approximately twenty percent being classified as obese and 30 to 50 percent being centrally obese and exposed to tobacco.

The study analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys collected by the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC between 1999 and 2008.

The article, “Household Income and Cardiovascular Disease Risks in U.S. Children and Young Adults,” is online and will be published in an upcoming issue of Diabetes Care.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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