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Arterial stiffness rife in adolescents with long-term obesity

According to UNICEF, there are about 1.2 Billion adolescents aged 10-19 in the world today. The population of adolescents has rapidly grown and particularly so in the developing countries. In Sub- Saharan Africa, adolescents make the largest proportion of the population, where 23 per cent of the population is aged 10–19 (UNICEF, 2016). This population is however, according to studies, facing a lot more health challenges than those faced years back. One such health challenge is obesity.

As of 2016, one in five (324 million) adolescents was overweight or obese. Overweight and obesity has rapidly increased over the years, arguably contributing to the burden of non-communicable diseases in this age group which in the same year accounted for more than half of the total disease burden experienced by adolescents (including mental disorders). In a recent study published in the The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, by the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, adolescents with long-term obesity have increased arterial stiffness by their late teenage years.

Now arterial stiffness in adults has been associated with increased risk of stroke, heart attacks and death from cardiovascular diseases. According to the researchers, arterial stiffness is a clear sign of atherosclerosis (a condition where fats, cholesterol and other substances build up in the walls of the artery, and can restrict blood flow).  The study also showed that risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high lipid levels were to some extent associated with arterial stiffness at 17, especially among those who were obese. On the brighter side, adolescents that normalized their blood lipids were able to attain normal arterial resilience.

Now adolescence has been shown to be a critical stage for tackling obesity and its associated risk factors. This study emphasises the need to manage obesity among adolescents.

Christine Nderitu

As a licensed Nutritionist and Public Health Practitioner, Christine, helps people lead healthy lifestyles through education and behaviour change practices that are simple and practical. Her area of expertise lies not just in nutrition management but in health education and promotion in HIV/AIDS, Adolescent Health, Maternal and Child Health as well as Non-Communicable Diseases, which she has engaged in for a decade. She is also a columnist in a leading local Daily. Christine has a keen interest in Non-Communicable Diseases prevention and control. She feels that the world needs more stories that celebrate and normalize desired (good) behaviour, and humanity. “We have many preventable and often manmade public health issues today.”