Young Adults Are Eating Their Hearts Out, Literally!


obesity in young adults By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


Sadly, the numbers don’t lie. Obesity rates for adults and minors continue to swell in certain parts of the United States.

For example, West Virginia reportedly has the highest adult obesity rate at 37.7 percent. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Credible data show that “nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States has obesity.

This alarming trend seems to be spilling over into the younger generations who are mimicking bad eating habits and food choices.

Now, a new study conducted by the University of Bristol Medical School has found that being overweight appears to be affecting the actual structure and function of hearts in young adults. Ultimately, this could lead to future generations being more at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Over the past 30 years, the adoption of more sedentary lifestyles, industrialization, urbanization and a nutritional transition to more processed foods have all conspired to exacerbate the problem.

And it isn’t just a personal or family issue. Childhood obesity can place a staggering burden on our healthcare systems and even possibly impact future gene pools. Obesity is a complex disease, with genetic, behavioral, socioeconomic and environmental factors that may all increase the risk of poor health and early death.

The Grim Reality

Researchers took a fresh approach to better understand the implications high obesity rates have on our youth. While some studies have shown a direct link between high body mass index (BMI) and poor cardiovascular health in older adults, this is one of the first studies to examine that same correlation in minors.

(Findings from the American Heart Association reveal that being overweight, even in the developmental stages of life, may lead to higher blood pressure and a thickening of the heart muscle. This generally leads to heart disease later in life).

Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or greater, with severe obesity upping the ante to 40 and greater. To put it into perspective, an adult who is 5’11’’ and weighs in at 215 lbs has a BMI of 30, which is considered obese. A healthy weight for an adult that height is 133 to 179 pounds.

(Use the CDC’s body mass index calculator to see where you fall on the spectrum. And keep in mind, BMI and the number on the scale are not the only measuring factors you need to be mindful of when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. Read here about measuring your waist circumference and getting a comprehensive body composition test).

BMI is calculated differently for children than it is for adults. You can find the CDC’s youth calculator here. For example, a 10-year-old boy of average height (4’ 8”) who weighs 102 pounds would fit the definition for being obese. The researchers' findings suggest that a higher BMI caused a spike in systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. It also appeared to cause the enlargement of the left ventricle, which is the heart's main pumping chamber.

"Thickening of vessel walls is widely considered to be the first sign of atherosclerosis, a disease in which fatty plaques build up within the arteries and lead to heart disease. However, our findings suggest that higher BMIs cause changes in the heart structure of the young that may precede changes in blood vessels," said Kaitlin H. Wade, B.Sc., Ph.D., lead author of the study.

How Can You Be Proactive About Helping Your Child Avoid Being Overweight or Obese?

It starts with leading by example. Children generally learn by what they see and what they are surrounded by. If you have unhealthy eating habits, most likely your child will too. You can lead by example. Start in the kitchen and work your way around to subtle changes in routine and behavior.

  • Clean out the pantry - Let the purging begin! The purging of the cabinets that is. Get rid of processed foods, ditch the sugary sweets and toss out the majority of extended shelf-life breads, pastas and carbs.
  • Load up on fresh fruits & vegetables - This is a vital adjustment. Concentrate on the outside aisles. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. These areas tend to house fresh produce and foods. If you can find a local farmer’s market in your area, that is an excellent time to get organic fruits and veggies for a fraction of the price. Reach for whole foods, not canned or packaged. You’ll need to retrain your palate to adjust to new flavors and foods. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables may jumpstart the metabolism and make dropping weight a lot easier. They contain critical nutrients to keep you healthy. Plus, you will feel more clear-headed and have better sleep.
  • Increase activity - This is a biggie. It is becoming apparent that an increasing number of children and young adults are not spending their free time outside as much as they used to. Technology is playing a more central role in their daily lives. So introduce your kids to outdoor activities. Enroll them in team sports or after school leagues. The American Heart Association suggests at least “150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). Thirty minutes a day, five times a week is an easy goal to remember. You will also experience benefits even if you divide your time into two or three segments of 10 to 15 minutes per day.”
  • Water, water, water! - Reintroduce water into the fold. Make it your main source of fluids in the household. Get rid of sodas and flavored drinks. Even concentrated juices are packed with sugars. Nothing can replace the benefits of water. Most store-bought drinks are loaded with artificial sweeteners and derail any attempt at lowering your intake of processed sugars.
  • Be mindful of vitamins and minerals - Along with water, there are five basic nutrients our bodies need to be healthy: protein, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins and minerals. Whole, plant-based foods tend to be rich in vitamins and minerals. And some particular vitamins and minerals may actually help a person achieve their weight loss goals.

It’s also important to know that minerals such as magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium may help you maintain a healthy heart. For example, having the right balance of sodium and potassium is key in maintaining a healthy blood pressure (and, therefore, a healthy heart).

Finally, have your child take or encourage your young teen to take a comprehensive nutrient test. People who are not nutritionally balanced tend to have more heart problems and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. If your child does have any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies, a competent healthcare professional can suggest necessary dietary changes and possibly recommend some good quality supplements.

Let’s help our kids enjoy their healthiest lives!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.



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