A recent study suggests that American adolescents are eating more healthily and showing less severe metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions like elevated blood sugar and high blood pressure that can cause cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.
The analysis of U.S. survey data showed that U.S teens are consuming fewer carbohydrates and calories, and more healthy unsaturated fats than they were more than 10 years ago.
Beside these changes in eating habits, teenagers also showed increased levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL), cholesterol that helps purge blood of debris and triglycerides – dangerous fats that makes blood thicker and more prone to clots. According to Dr. Mark DeBoer of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the reduction in severity of the metabolic syndrome was linked to the changes in HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Metabolic syndrome consists of many health risk factors such as hypertension, high blood sugar, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and obesity – which usually occur together. Metabolic syndrome is also linked to lowered sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which helps control the levels of sugars in the blood. If metabolic syndrome is untreated, it can cause severe health complications. DeBoer and colleagues note in the journal Pediatrics that the risk of developing the syndrome and the severity of symptoms can be genetically affected, but may also be modified with eating habits and workout.
Survey data of 5,117 youth aged 12 to 19 from 1999 to 2012 was collected to evaluate the link between metabolic syndrome severity and changes in diet and exercise over time. In the study, about 10% of teens had metabolic syndrome, but the proportion didn’t change in spite of a significant rise in body mass index (BMI). Researchers couldn’t find any changes in blood sugar and hypertension during the study. They also didn’t find any changes in physical activity when the study used exercise data.
The severity of metabolic syndrome, which is measured based on the existence and magnitude of individual risk factors, decreased. For instance, by the end of the study, there were fewer teens that had low HDL or high triglycerides.
However, the study can’t prove the association between dietary changes and the decline in metabolic syndrome severity. Plus, physical activity data was inadequate and it depends on children to accurately report on their workout habits, which may have covered a link between metabolic syndrome and fitness levels, the authors note.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of six U.S. teens is obese. As these children often have metabolic syndrome, studies like this are still essential to understand how the severity of symptoms can be influenced by lifestyle changes and how those changes may potentially lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease, Guinhouya added.
In order to avoid metabolic syndrome, parents should keep a closely watch for their children’s weight and waist circumference, which are more difficult to spot than other risk factors, Guinhouya said.