03:00am Monday 14 October 2019

Unhealthy teen habits can lead to heart disease

New research from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and the University of Toronto shows cardiovascular risk in teens with lower socioeconomic status is significantly influenced by sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, smoking and other health behaviours.

The study, presented Oct. 23 by U of T’s Dr. Sarah Lord, lead author, at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver, is the result of a collaboration with Heart Niagara Inc.’s Healthy Heart Schools’ Program, which provides cardiovascular screening to all Grade 9 students in the Niagara region. The screening involves recording each student’s height, weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Knowledge and resources

“People with higher socioeconomic status tend to have more resources, knowledge and time to devote to a healthy lifestyle. Those with lower socioeconomic status are often focused on more immediate concerns, like stretching their paycheque to cover food and rent,” said the study’s principal investigator, Professor Brian McCrindle of pediatrics, a staff cardiologist and senior scientist at SickKids. “By taking socioeconomic status into consideration, health-care providers can target youth and families at risk of heart disease and design adaptive interventions to address the behavioural factors in this population.”

The research involved Heart Niagara’s collection of cross-sectional data for cardiovascular risk factors and health behaviours in more than 4,000 students aged 14 to 15 during the 2009-2010 school year.

Researchers examined the data collected from the universal screening program and matched participants’ postal codes with socioeconomic status measures from the 2006 Census Canada data. These include household income, home ownership and highest educational degree in the home. They then looked at health behaviours such as physical activity, screen time, smoking, snacking habits and fruit/vegetable consumption. They also examined factors that may contribute to cardiovascular risk, like body-mass index (BMI), cholesterol and blood pressure.

Higher BMI, lower income linked

The researchers found higher BMI and cholesterol were linked with lower income and education. Elevated blood pressure was significantly associated with lower income. Sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition and smoking were strongly related to lower socioeconomic status.

“The Healthy Heart Schools’ Program works across socioeconomic barriers to identify premature future risk and is reaching adolescents who may not be getting wellness checks,” said Karen Stearne of Heart Niagara Inc., a not-for-profit charitable organization that supports educators and helps both children and adults take responsibility for their heart health by providing assessment, referrals, training and tools.

Staying healthy

“As health-care providers, we need to teach youth that you don’t need a gym membership to be active. There are low-cost strategies to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” said McCrindle, who is also CIBC World Markets Children’s Miracle Foundation Chair in Child Health Research at SickKids and U of T.

Prof. McCrindle and colleagues offer tips and tools for creating healthy weight programs for children and teens.

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