Healthier Diets May Be Cutting Teens' Health Risks
But obesity still rose and physical activity remained the same, study showed
By Maureen Salamon
TUESDAY, Feb. 9, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The severity of metabolic syndrome -- a cluster of health risk factors such as belly fat and poor cholesterol levels -- among U.S. teens has been improving, and researchers believe that healthier diets may be the reason why.
Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The study found marked changes in two of the risk factors: a drop in blood fats known as triglycerides, and an increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol.
But not all the news from the study was good. Teen obesity levels rose during the 13-year study period. The investigators also found no changes in average physical activity 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," said study author Dr. Mark DeBoer.
"This supports the important idea that changes to your lifestyle choices are the key to improving cardiovascular risk status," he added. DeBoer is an associate professor of pediatrics in the division of pediatric endocrinology at University of Virginia.
The study was published online Feb. 9 and in the March print edition of the journal Pediatrics.
A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome means someone has at least three out of five risk factors. Those risk factors include: excessive belly fat; high blood pressure; elevated fasting blood sugar; high triglyceride levels; and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. More than one-third of American adults have metabolic syndrome, the American Heart Association says.
Study data came from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey completed between 1999 and 2012. The researchers had information on over 5,000 teens. All were between 12 and 19 years old, the study authors said.
The rate of metabolic syndrome among the teens held steady during the study period. But the severity of the syndrome decreased, the researchers found.
Along with improvements in triglyceride levels and HDL cholesterol, the teens' overall calorie and carbohydrate intake declined. The study also found that the teens were eating more unsaturated fats. These are considered a healthy type of fat.