- Recent data indicates improvements in metabolic syndrome, a health issue that raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, among American teenagers. These improvements are seen through a decrease in blood fat and an increase in ‘good’ cholesterol levels.
- Despite these improvements, obesity trends among teenagers continue rising, with no significant changes in physical activity levels observed.
- The study attributes improved metabolic syndrome indications to progressively healthier dietary habits among children, including fewer calories consumed, reduced carbohydrate intake, and more unsaturated fats incorporated into their diets.
- The research, which spanned from 1999 to 2012, also saw an increase in the consumption of unsaturated fats and a decrease in carbohydrate consumption among teenagers, reflecting dietary advice during this period.
- While there is optimism for a reversing trend in obesity rates if these dietary habits continue, experts stress that the food industry also needs to contribute to this change by providing healthier options and reformulating existing products.
A recent positive turn in the dietary habits of American adolescents has resulted in considerable reductions in heart disease and diabetes risks. This is believed to be largely due to improvements in a health issue known as metabolic syndrome – a collection of various risk factors such as excessive abdominal fat and poor cholesterol levels.
Understanding Metabolic Syndrome and its Decline
Metabolic syndrome, a condition known to heighten the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, has shown evident improvements among adolescents in the United States. Specifically, notable changes were found in two risk factors: a decrease in blood fat –or triglycerides– and a rise in HDL, labeled as the “good” cholesterol.
However, the findings were not entirely optimistic. Obesity levels in teens have continued to rise throughout the 13-year research period, despite no significant alterations in physical activity levels.
What are the Potential Causes for these Improvements?
“Over time, children have demonstrated healthier dietary habits, consuming fewer calories overall, reducing carbohydrate intake and incorporating more unsaturated fats into their diets,” reported Dr. Mark DeBoer, the author of the study and associate professor of pediatrics in the pediatric endocrinology division of the University of Virginia.
“Lifestyle choices are key in amending cardiovascular risk status,” DeBoer added.
Details of the Study
This research, conducted between 1999 and 2012, was based on data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and considered information from over 5,000 teenagers aged between 12 and 19. A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome requires at least three out of five risk factors – excess belly fat, high blood pressure, elevated fasting blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, and low HDL cholesterol – to be present. The American Heart Association has found that more than a third of adult Americans have metabolic syndrome.
Beneficial Changes in Teen Dietary Habits
Despite the constant rate of metabolic syndrome among teenagers over the study period, the severity of the syndrome saw a decrease. Declining overall calorie and carbohydrate intakes paralleled improvements in triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels while the consumption of unsaturated fats – a healthier fat type – increased among teenagers.
This improvement in dietary habits happened during the period when dieticians advised a reduction in carbohydrate intake and recommended healthier diets such as the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet stresses on plant-based foods and healthy unsaturated fat sources like olive oil and nuts.
Hopes and Future Predictions
“Our hope is that if these dietary trends continue, that there will eventually be a reversal of obesity as well,” DeBoer said.
“It seems like maybe we’re at a turning point,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, a registered dietitian and a professor of nutrition at Penn State University. “I hope these changes in diet might eventually lead to lower rates of metabolic syndrome, beyond just lessened severity.”
However, Kris-Etherton stated that improvements in metabolic syndrome and obesity rates require more than just wise food choices and physical activity. “The food industry needs to play a role in this change by providing healthier food options and reformulating existing products,” she explained.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides additional details on metabolic syndrome.