What do sodium, body fat and accelerated ageing have in common? The correct answer is heart disease. Researchers conducted an important new study that raised red flags, putting health critics and parents on the edge of their seats. The results are staggering: excess sodium intake among obese teens can cause premature ageing and heart disease.
For many years now news about unhealthy diets high in sodium and fat has made headlines. New evidence found by researchers from the Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Regents University in Augusta, GA concludes two facts. Not only are obese teens at a higher risk of developing heart disease, but they are also at risk of ageing faster. This is due in part to the extra belly fat carried around by 18 percent of obese American teens shortens their telomeres, says Haidong Zhu, M.D., Ph.D.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70 percent of obese teens have at least one risk for developing heart disease. They are also more likely to have prediabetes, which is blood glucose levels that indicate a higher risk of developing diabetes.
What Is a Telomere?
Telomeres are the protective ends of the chromosomes, all 23 pairs of them embedded into a person’s DNA, and they naturally shorten as a person ages. This means that teens with unhealthy diets that are high in sodium can lead to obesity, heart disease and act as a catalyst that can induce faster ageing by prematurely shortening their telomeres.
Obesity and Inflammation
Being a teenager is hard enough, not to mention dealing with tissue inflammation cause by obesity. Obese teens not only have to deal with the stresses of high school popularity contests, but their health is at risk too. Cutting back on sodium filled fries that they gobble down every day at lunch is an easier approach than hitting the race track to lose weight. Obese teens who want to reduce their risk of developing heart disease should take this advice, says Zhu.
Where does all this sodium come from? Obese teens aren’t sitting in the bleachers lapping up all natural sea salt while discussing the latest episode of The New Girl. “The majority of sodium in the diet comes from processed foods. . .” Zhu says. So, what can parents and teens alike do to curb the belly fat induced lower back aches? A simple remedy offered by Dr. Zhu is to offer fresh fruit for snack time instead of sodium packed potato chips.
The gym teacher may not be an obese teen’s favorite instructor, but she does have a point: fast food is fat food. It is recommended that they take notice of their peers’ healthy eating habits. Instead of staring at her in disbelief when she asks to be served green beans, a fillet of chicken and salad for lunch, they should do the same. Not, order an extra serving of salty fries and pizza. There is no visible premature ageing on her face, right? Precisely. At this time of year everyone who doesn’t already have a prom date is scrambling to shed a few pounds to look good in their overpriced prom dresses and rented tuxes.
High school is tough enough, obese teenagers do not want to deal with negative health implications due to a poor diet. A teen’s wonder years should be spent worrying about getting into trouble for staying out past midnight. Not, how excess sodium intake can lead to teenage obesity, premature ageing and heart disease. All of which could untimely robe them of the pleasure of admiring their prom photos twenty years from now.
By Sergio Romero
Center for Disease Control and Prevention