A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology says that poor health habits early on in life could lead to heart disease later on. The study primarily focused on blood pressure and cholesterol levels from before age 40. It found that having a “bad” cholesterol level as a young adult raised the risk of heart disease by more than 60%. Having high blood pressure as a young adult also caused a 20-40% increase in the risk of developing heart disease.
Senior author of the study, Dr. Andrew Moran, said the important takeaway point of the study is that young people should not be waiting until health problems arise to make healthy choices. Moran is also the principal investigator at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center. He went on to say that the study shows that improved diet and exercise as you get older can’t always undo the damage caused by bad health habits as a young adult.
The study worked by comparing the blood pressure, cholesterol, and cardiovascular health of nearly 36,000 American adults over almost two decades. The project was a joint venture that compiled data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, the Cardiovascular Risk Developing in Youth Adults study, the Cardiovascular Health Study, the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort, the Health, Aging and Body Composition study, and the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis.The researchers split the data to compare people from ages 18-39 to people over the age of 40.
The important findings were that high blood pressure and high “bad” cholesterol before age 40 were associated with heart disease and heart failure after age 40. Moran said he was most surprised by the association between early life cholesterol and increased heart failure. He said it was a unique finding and surprising because heart failure almost always occurs at an older age.
Moran and his team were honest about the limits of their study. They stressed that the study only showed associations and not causation. They also said more research is needed to find a similar connection between childhood and adulthood.
Moran said that their next step is to do the research comparing childhood blood pressure and cholesterol to adulthood outcomes. If they can establish that connection, Moran believes they may be able to establish prevention methods early in life that could decrease the overall incidence of heart disease. Prevention methods in general are happening too late.
Dr. Samuel Gidding and Dr. Jennifer Robinson co-authored an editorial that was published with this new study. They called for earlier prevention methods and told the medical community that young adults needed more preventative measures against heart disease risk. They also pointed out that women and non-white individuals still suffer heart disease at as high a rate now as they did decades ago. By focusing on a younger, high-risk population, the doctors think we can begin to see serious improvement in medical prevention of these diseases.