What Are the Risks in Youth That Affect Cardiovascular Fitness in Adulthood?

Heart health problems aren't just concerns for unhealthy or older adults. Poor cardiovascular fitness is becoming increasingly common in children due to the prevalence of overweight and obesity. One population-based study, published in 2007 in the "Journal of Pediatrics," found that 70 percent of obese minors ages 5 to 17 have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, obesity is far from the only risk linked to kids' future cardiovascular health.

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Childhood Chronic Disease

Children with certain medical conditions are more likely to develop cardiovascular problems later in life. Kids with type 1 diabetes, an unpreventable disease, are at greater risk for atherosclerosis. Managing their blood glucose levels and avoiding other cardiovascular risk factors is likely to lower their risk for coronary heart disease as adults, according to a November 2006 review appearing in the journal "Heart." Children and young people who survive pediatric cancer are also more likely to have future heart problems 1. Research findings suggest that by age 27 these survivors start developing cardiovascular issues more commonly found in older adults, according to a study published online in December 2009 in the "British Medical Journal." The long-term effects of cancer treatments play a role in this risk.

Lifestyle Factors

One of the biggest public health and medical concerns in this country is childhood obesity 3. Lack of physical activity coupled with poor eating habits fuel the epidemic. Childhood obesity sets young people up for obesity as adults because they are likely to continue the same unhealthy lifestyle. This increases the risk for chronic health issues that contribute to poor cardiovascular fitness including high cholesterol, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and stress . The 2006 "Heart" article suggests that smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke during youth could have cumulative effects on the structure and function of the arteries as well.

Home Life

Physiological health issues aren't the only concerns when it comes to cardiovascular fitness. Childhood neglect, physical abuse, verbal abuse and unstable living situations were found to contribute to adult heart disease in an August 2011 study published in the journal "Psychosomatic Medicine." Inadequate parental monitoring during childhood was also a risk factor 2. The higher adult participants scored on a survey about their childhood family life, the greater their risks for heart problems. It's possible that the repercussions of these bad experiences, such as depression, low educational attainment and low income, are the links between a poor childhood and adult heart health.

Socioeconomic Status

Minors living in a household with low socioeconomic status face multiple challenges during their youth that impact their cardiovascular and general health as adults, the researchers behind a 2010 study in the "Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences" report. These individuals are less likely to have access to varied, healthy food options and safe environments for physical activity. They're also at greater risk for exposure to toxins, as well as poorer air and water quality. These factors in combination contribute to cellular damage and unhealthy lifestyles. Neighborhood crime, lack of familial support, unhealthy parental habits and lower-quality education increase the risk of stress, substance abuse and other unhealthy behavior in young people.