Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Teenage Weight Gain: A Heart Attack Waiting to Happen?

Teenage boy eating a hamburger.It’s easy to laugh off a teenager’s unhealthy lifestyle as something he’ll grow out of. But a new study by Dr. Amir Tirosh and colleagues, published in the April 7, 2011 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that a teenage lifestyle of fast food, sodas, and video games can have very serious and surprisingly long lasting consequences.

The researchers followed over 37,000 Israeli young men, starting at the age of 17 and continuing for an average of 17 years. Baseline information was obtained on body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat which is based on height and weight. (Calculate your own BMI with this tool from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute). A BMI over 24 is considered overweight, and a number of 30 or greater is medically obese.

Healthy teens tend to have lower BMIs, in general, than adults, since their bodies are still growing and developing. In the U.S., the average BMI for teenage boys is around 22. A BMI under 18 is considered underweight.

In this study, a teenage boy with a BMI in the range of 27 at the age of 17 had more than a fivefold increase in the risk of heart disease in early to mid adulthood, when compared to someone who started out with a BMI of 17. In fact, every BMI point over 17 raised the risk somewhat.  And the hearts of those who remained overweight or obese into adulthood were at even greater jeopardy.

We like to believe that we are bulletproof during our teen years, and that any damage we inflict on ourselves can be easily repaired later in life, but the truth is much more complicated. Our lifestyles are becoming increasingly toxic, with fast food, processed foods, and a sedentary lifestyle often considered the norm. If you are a parent, it’s time to become the best role model you can be, to help your child thrive throughout young adulthood and beyond.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.