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Survey Finds Many Young Adults Oblivious to Heart Health

As obesity and other risk factors rise, many believe stroke and heart disease won't affect them

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, May 2 (HealthDay News) -- A new U.S. survey finds that nine out of 10 college-age adults think they're living a healthy lifestyle, even as experts warn that that's not the case and current lifestyles will have consequences for health down the road.

In fact, too much fast food, too much alcohol and too many sugary drinks are putting people aged 18 to 24 at increased risk for heart disease and stroke, say experts at the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

"There is a clear disconnect," said Dr. Ralph Sacco, president of the AHA/ASA and a professor of neurology, epidemiology and human genetics and chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"Even though young people may think they are in good health, the national statistics don't show that," he said. "Current statistics show that less than 1 percent are meeting our definition for ideal cardiovascular health."

Young people aren't recognizing the importance of ideal health, but at the same time they feel "invincible" when it comes to their heart's well-being, Sacco said.

"Young people may not realize that healthy behaviors now translate into better health in middle adult life," he said. "Living a healthy lifestyle at the earliest ages is critical to living free of cardiovascular disease and stroke," he said.

For example, any rise in obesity in children will have serious health consequences later in life, he said. "If we don't do something as early as possible -- focusing on better health behaviors, like diet, exercise and not smoking -- it will be too late regarding development of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol," Sacco said.

In the survey released May 2, nearly 1,250 adults aged 18 to 44 were asked about their attitudes about health, healthy behaviors and their personal risk for stroke.

Most of the 18-24 year olds surveyed said they want to stay healthy and live a long time -- until they are 98, in fact. However, nearly half (43 percent) said they aren't were concerned about heart disease or stroke, and a third do not believe that healthy behaviors they engage in now will affect their risk for stroke later on.

Only 18 percent in this age group was able to identify one risk for stroke, the researchers added.

Other highlights of the survey:

  • 15 percent of college age adults and 23 percent of 25-34-year-olds say they smoke.
  • 36 percent of those aged 25 to 34 say they aren't concerned about heart disease or stroke.
  • Only 22 percent of "older young adults" -- those aged 35 to 44 -- said they are not worried about heart disease, heart attack, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes or stroke.
  • All of the age groups surveyed said they ranked stroke as the least of their worries in terms of personal health threats.

But experts beg to differ, noting that stroke prevention begins early in the life span. In fact, people who make healthy lifestyle choices lower their risk of a first stroke by as much as 80 percent, compared with those who don't make similar choices, according to the AHA/ASA.

Healthy behaviors include eating a diet low in "bad" fats and high in fruits and vegetables, drinking alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages in moderation, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight and not smoking.

Commenting on the survey, Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine said that "one of the things I distinctly recall about my own teenage years was a sense of immortality, or at least a very vague sense of my mortality."

"I'm not sure we can expect adolescents and young adults to be reliable judges of the healthfulness of their behaviors," he said. They are, to some degree, insulated against the adverse effects of their less healthy behaviors by their youth, Katz said.

They can play now, and pay later, he said. "But pay later, they will. And, with ever-more chronic disease [arising] at an ever-younger age, later comes sooner, and sooner," he said.

Katz doubts changing the character of youth is the answer to this problem.

"Rather, I believe it resides in changing the character of our culture, so that eating well, being active, and getting to health all lie along a path of lesser resistance. Young people may always tend to assume that what they tend to do is fine for their health. Our job is to create a society, a culture and environments that make them right," Katz said.

More information

For more information on stroke, visit the American Stroke Association.


SOURCES: Ralph Sacco, M.D., president, American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, professor, neurology, epidemiology and human genetics, and chairman, department of neurology, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; May, 2, 2011, American Stroke Association survey

Copyright © 2011 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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