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Do Children and Teens Need to Worry About Fat and Cholesterol?


Atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, and stroke.  These conditions affect young adults, middle-aged adults and seniors. While technically true, but with exceptions, the heart attack or stroke that affects someone at age 45, 55 or 65 years does not just occur “out of the blue”.  In most cases, there has been underlying pathology developing and affecting their blood vessels for many years.  Although the pathogenesis of narrowing in blood vessels is multifactorial and undergoing continued investigation and debate, it is clear that cholesterol build-up in the vessel wall plays an important role. This is a process that takes many years or even decades to develop and, therefore, what your teen eats now can affect their risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. Furthermore, they tend to carry the eating habits that they develop as a child and teen with them through life. It is even more difficult to convince people that if they are not overweight or ‘fat’, their vessels and heart are not either. That is far from the case.

While a correlation does exist between obesity and heart disease it is not cause and effect per se, but may be another marker.  Plenty of fit, athletic, thin people develop severe vascular and heart disease. Thin people can have very elevated triglycerides and cholesterol and obese people can have very normal or low levels.  The fact is that 17% of teens have evidence of atherosclerosis and 50% of 40 year-olds will have evidence of it as well.  Having operated on many children, teens and young adults, I have certainly come across my share of young hearts covered in fat, and who have yellow streaks and true thickened plaques in the aorta and other vessels. Think about that the next time you order a double cheeseburger.   Atherosclerosis starts early in life and progresses, but there are things one can do to limit or prevent its development. Do not smoke, avoid obesity and secondary diabetes, exercise regularly, eat fruits and vegetables, and limit high cholesterol and fatty foods in meals. Moderate and balance the tasty (but bad for you) foods with healthy foods.

About Jeff Pearl, MD

Dr. Jeff is a trained general, pediatric cardiac, and transplant surgeon. Nutrition has always been an important concern for surgeons in regards to patients healing from surgery. He has had a longstanding interest in health, nutrition and supplements, and been an advocate of the use of nutrition and supplements in the hospital setting to aid in his patient’s recovery. He has a history of basic science and clinical research and a keen ability to interpret studies and statistics to determine their true significance. He is the father and step-father to several teenage athletes and knows firsthand the challenges they face in balancing their time, eating habits and use of supplements. He is adamant about trying to educate our youth about better nutrition. Dr. Jeff recognizes the challenges that healthcare faces and the need for people to take charge of their own health and disease prevention. He loves being outside and is one of those crazy few seen hiking or biking in the middle of the day in summer.

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