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Arterial stiffness rife in adolescents with obesity

Christine Nderitu

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), there are about 1.2 billion people aged 10-19 in the world today. The adolescent population has rapidly grown, particularly in developing countries. In sub- Saharan Africa, adolescents make the largest proportion of the population, with 23 per cent aged 10–19 (Unicef, 2016). This population is, according to studies, facing a lot more health challenges than those faced years back. One such challenge is obesity.

As of 2016, one in five adolescents was overweight or obese. Overweight and obesity has rapidly increased of the years, arguably contributing to the burden of non-communicable diseases in this age group, which, in the same year, accounted for more than half of the total disease burden experienced by adolescents (including mental disorders). In a recent study published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health by the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, titled Association between fat mass through adolescence and arterial stiffness: a population-based study from The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, adolescents with long-term obesity have increased arterial stiffness by their late teenage years.

In adults, arterial stiffness has been associated with increased risk of stroke, heart attacks and death from cardiovascular diseases. According to the researchers, arterial stiffness is a clear sign of atherosclerosis (a condition where fats, cholesterol and other substances build up in the walls of the artery, and can restrict blood flow).  The study also showed that risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high lipid levels were to some extent associated with arterial stiffness at 17, especially among those who were obese. On the brighter side, teens that normalised their blood lipids were able to attain normal arterial resilience.

Now adolescence is shown to be a critical stage for tackling obesity and associated risk factors. The study emphasises the need to manage obesity in teens.

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