During the study period, 14 percent either had or were at risk for high blood pressure (prehypertensive/hypertensive), 22 percent had borderline-high or high bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, and 6 percent had low levels of the good (HDL) cholesterol.
For the study period overall, 15 percent of teens were classified as having pre-diabetes or diabetes. The rate of pre-diabetes/diabetes was the only risk factor that increased from the beginning of the study to the end.
May noted that this might have more to do with how they tested for diabetes, as they only measured one fasting blood sugar level. Normally, diabetes or pre-diabetes isn't diagnosed unless there are at least two abnormal fasting blood sugar levels, because levels tend to fluctuate.
In addition, May said the plateauing of the other risk factors appears to mirror the plateau that has occurred in childhood obesity. But, she added, both the diabetes trend and the plateauing trend will need more research over time to see if these trends continue.
The study also found that as weight increased, so did the cardiovascular risk factors. However, a significant number of normal-weight children also showed signs of trouble. About 10 percent were in the pre-hypertensive/hypertensive category, more than 15 percent had elevated bad cholesterol and more than 10 percent had pre-diabetes/diabetes, the results showed.
Dr. Dorothy Becker, chief of endocrinology and diabetes at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said she wasn't surprised by the findings, even that some normal-weight children were showing heart disease risk factors. She said that anyone who's eating a diet high in sugar and fat will likely have problems, even if it isn't readily apparent in their weight.
"It's not just what you look like. You can have a pretty lousy lifestyle without being overweight," she said.
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