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Majority of U.S. Adolescents Have Poor Diets

April 2, 2013

Less than ideal cardiovascular health behaviors among young people could have implications for the future.

More than 80% of adolescents in the U.S. have poor diets, according to research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation. Researchers examined the components of cardiovascular health in 4,673 participants aged 12 to 19 years (representing about 33.2 million U.S. adolescents) from the 2005–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.

Overall, low prevalence of ideal cardiovascular health behaviors in U.S. adolescents, particularly physical activity and dietary intake, will likely contribute to a worsening prevalence of obesity, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and dysglycemia as the current U.S. adolescent population reaches adulthood, researchers concluded. Population-wide emphasis on establishment of ideal cardiovascular health behaviors early in life is essential for maintenance of ideal cardiovascular health throughout the lifespan.

The American Heart Association recently developed definitions and metrics for monitoring the spectrum of cardiovascular health in adolescents and children. Prevalence of individual cardiovascular health behaviors and factors was estimated according to American Heart Association criteria for poor, intermediate and ideal levels. Ideal blood pressure was most prevalent (males, 78%; females, 90%), whereas a dramatically low prevalence of ideal Healthy Diet Score was observed (males, <1%; females, <1%).

Females exhibited a lower prevalence of ideal total cholesterol (65% versus 72%, respectively) and ideal physical activity levels (44% versus 67%, respectively) yet a higher prevalence of ideal blood glucose (89% versus 74%, respectively) compared with males.

Approximately two thirds of adolescents exhibited ideal body mass index (males, 66%; females, 67%) and ideal smoking status (males, 66%; females, 70%). Less than 50% of adolescents exhibited ≥5 ideal cardiovascular health components (45%, males; 50%, females). Prevalence estimates according to sex were consistent across race/ethnic groups.

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