Even America's Youth
Have Clogged Arteries
By Maggie Fox - Health and Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many U.S. teenagers already have arteries clogged so badly they could suffer heart attacks, and 20 percent of men under the age of 34 do, too, a study published on Tuesday suggests.
Researchers looked at the arteries of teens and young adults who died in accidents, suicide or murder and were amazed to discover that many were already badly clogged.
``Most people think of heart disease as an adult disease,'' Dr. Arthur Zieske, a pathologist at Louisiana State University who worked on the study, said in a statement.
``But what we have found is it affects young people -- very young people -- too.''
The researchers looked at 760 coronary arteries for their study, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
They found 2 percent of males aged 15 to 19 and 20 percent of men aged between 30 and 34 had advanced plaques, which are the blockages considered most likely to break off and cause a heart attack or stroke.
They did not find advanced plaques in girls aged 15 to 19, but did find them in eight 8 percent of the women aged 30 to 34.
``If our results hold true for larger populations, one in five men between the ages of 30 and 34 has some significant damage to his heart arteries that has probably developed over the past 20 years due to one or more risk factors for heart disease,'' Dr. Henry McGill of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas, who led the study, said in a statement.
``This would indicate the need to tailor prevention messages to younger people.''
Doctors know that quitting smoking, exercising regularly and eating a low-fat diet all can help control heart disease, but getting the word out to Americans has proved difficult.
``Finding dangerous advanced plaques in teenagers and young adults tells us definitively that if we are to reduce heart attacks and deaths due to coronary heart disease, we need to make sure our children are eating healthy foods, exercising and not smoking,'' Zieske said.
As might be expected, people who were obese or who had high levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or ``bad'' cholesterol) were 2.5 times more likely to have advanced plaque blockages.
``It's not too surprising that high blood cholesterol is associated with the advanced plaques,'' McGill said. ``But to show that it has an effect as early as age 15 gives strong support to the idea that nutritional guidelines for the prevention of heart disease should be recommended for children as well as adults.''

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