The study, published in the April 2 issue of Circulation, found less than 50 percent of U.S. teens had five or more of these healthy heart components.
None of the students met all seven criteria for "ideal" cardiovascular health. Mexican Americans were more likely than whites and blacks to meet five or more ideal cardiovascular health components.
About one-third of males and females had less than ideal body mass index (BMI), a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. And about one-third of males and females had also smoked.
Differences between males and females were also noted. Males did better than females in achieving ideal physical activity levels -- 67 percent compared to 44 percent. But almost one-quarter of males (22 percent) had less than ideal blood pressure compared to 10 percent of females.
Females were also more likely than males to have ideal fasting glucose levels (used to predict diabetes) -- 89 percent versus 74 percent.
Experts say the findings are cause for concern.
"This study provides further emphasis that cardiovascular risk factors and behaviors associated with the development of adult atherosclerosis frequently develop early in life," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a spokesman for the American Heart Association and professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Atherosclerosis is more commonly known as hardening of the arteries.
Shay and Fonarow said significant environmental and cultural changes are needed to promote healthier lifestyles for teens in order to improve their cardiovascular health.
"These unfavorable lifestyle habits have likely already led to the high proportion of children in this study that also exhibited elevated levels of cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure," Shay said.
Another expert said prevention works.
"As a culture, we take for granted that heart disease will occur often at
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