Young Adults: Are They as Healthy as They Think

Ask an 18- to 24-year-old if he or she is living a healthy lifestyle, and nine times out of 10, you will get an affirmative. At least, that is what the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association found in a new national survey.

But some of the other responses tell a different heart truth. Many young adults engage in risky health behaviors - and one-third of them do not think the way they live now affects their stroke risk later.

Smoking, Fast Food Place Young Hearts at Risk

The survey results, released in May 2011, “paint an unhealthy picture of the nation’s college-aged population,” says Naveen Uli, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist in the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism and Co-Director of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight™ program at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

Of those who responded:

  • Less than half regularly exercise.
  • About half are at a healthy weight.
  • Almost one-third eat fast food regularly, while only one-fourth eat enough fruits and vegetables.
  • Fifteen percent smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each day, about 4,000 adolescents, ages 12 to 17, try their first cigarette - and 11 percent of high school students have smoked an entire cigarette before age 13.
  • More than half do not limit how many sugary beverages they drink.

All of these behaviors increase young adults’ risk for stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases.

The consequences may already be appearing. “More young adults than ever are dying suddenly of cardiac causes, and roughly one in five have high blood pressure,” Dr. Uli says. “Having multiple unhealthy habits appears to increase their risk of ‘silent’ or symptom-free heart disease.”

Healthy Lifestyle for a Healthy Future

Scientists continue to tie risk factors at a young age to health consequences years later. For example, one new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found abnormal cholesterol counts in 18- to 30-year-olds as an indicator of clogged arteries two decades later.

The good news: Research suggests healthy lifestyles reduce the risk of a first stroke by about 80 percent. Another recent study that was published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine proves it is possible to change your fate as you age. People who adopted healthy habits between youth and adulthood lowered their cholesterol, even if it was high at an early age.

To age healthfully:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. “Extra pounds burden the heart, lungs and blood vessels,” Dr. Uli says.
  • Avoid smoking. “This is one of the best things a person can do for one’s heart - and overall health,” Dr. Uli says. For tips on quitting smoking, visit SmokeFree.gov.
  • Get moving. “Ensure that you and your family engages in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day, five or more days per week,” Dr. Uli says.

uli-naveen Naveen Uli, MD
Pediatric Endocrinologist, Co-Director, Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight
UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital
Assistant Professor
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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