Two studies published Tuesday suggest that the risk of heart disease can be identified early in life, and that cholesterol and other tests should be initiated earlier than they now are.
One report from the Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, which looked at 486 adults who had been tested since childhood, found that those with weight, cholesterol and other problems early on wound up with a narrowing of the carotid artery as adults.
The artery supplies blood to the brain, and obstruction can lead to a stroke.
A second study from the University of Turku, Finland, involved 2,229 adults aged 24 to 39 years who had been measured at ages 3 to 18 in 1980 and then again 21 years later.
“Our findings indicate that children and adolescents with several risk factors are at increased risk of developing atherosclerosis in adulthood,” said the study. The risk factors included obesity, high blood fat levels and high blood pressure.
“Reductions in these factors could be potentially achieved in children with lifestyle modifications such as inducing changes in the diet, increasing levels of physical activity and controlling obesity,” the authors said.
Both studies were published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, which also carried an editorial commenting on them by Henry McGill Jr., and C. Alex McMahan, both of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
“With the evidence now emerging that shows that cholesterol and other risk factors do matter during adolescence, it may now be time to reconsider the age at which measurement of cholesterol levels should begin,” they said.
Except for families where there are notable risk factors, cholesterol testing is usually not done until adulthood.
“From a public health perspective, it is essential to promote a culture in which young persons are encouraged to maintain safe and healthy lifestyles,” they added. “The difficulty of modifying lifestyles of teen-agers in the current environment of the industrialized societies should not be underestimated, and success may require decades, perhaps even generations.”