American teenagers are eating healthier foods, which most likely contributes to reduced severity of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes, according to a new study. The research, published online Feb. 9 in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that a shift in teen eating habits may account for a lessening of metabolic syndrome, a group of health conditions that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol.
For the study, researchers led by Mark DeBoer, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, assessed the interaction between changes in diet, exercise and metabolic syndrome severity over time. Using data collected from 1999 to 2012 for 5,177 young people aged 12 to 19, they found that overall, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome remained steady at 10 percent, but the severity of the condition decreased.
Specifically, the researchers found that even while the teens’ obesity rose over the 13-year period, their HDL (good cholesterol) increased and their triglyceride levels decreased. There were, however, no changes in study participants’ blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
“While we don’t know for sure why these improvements occurred, we saw that over time, children have eaten healthier diets, eating fewer calories overall, less carbohydrates and more food with unsaturated fat,” senior lead author DeBoer told HealthDay.
DeBoer and his colleagues concluded that the reduced severity of metabolic syndrome was linked to the favorable changes in the teens’ HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. “This supports the important idea that changes in your lifestyle choices are the key to improving cardiovascular risk,” DeBoer said.
One expert who was not a part of the study called the findings “a turning point.” Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, a registered dietician and professor of nutrition at Penn State University, told HealthDay, “It might take a while to see statistically significant decreases in metabolic syndrome in adolescents, but it seems we’re seeing some of the benefits now that will hopefully continue to have an impact.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in six children and teens are obese. Given that obese children often have metabolic syndrome, the study’s findings underscore the role lifestyle changes can play in lowering the condition’s severity and reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, the authors noted.
“It is important to understand what may be contributing to this U.S. adolescent population improvement in [metabolic syndrome] severity because identifying the contributing factors could aid in ensuring their continued effectiveness, with potential beneficial implications for upcoming generations of children with respect to long-term health outcomes,” the authors concluded.