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14 July 2010
By Prithvijit Mitra
25% City Teens Face Heart Ailment Risk
Study Records 8% Rise In Number Of Obese Youngsters In Three Years
If you thought high cholesterol, clogged arteries and anginal pain bogged only those in their fifties, here is a wakeup call. One out of four teenagers in Kolkata shows symptoms that could develop into serious cardiac disorders by the time they are in their early twenties. Around onefourth are obese and have low tolerance to physical exercises that could prevent them from losing weight. An alarming 5% of city students, aged less than 18, could fall prey to a heart ailment any moment.
The shocking figures are the outcome of a survey conducted by a group of doctors from private hospitals in the city. What’s probably even more worrying is that the figures were appreciably lower three years ago when the first study was done. There has been a near 8% rise in the number of obese youngsters while the number of overweight children has gone up by around 6%.
“It’s a direct result of a combination of over–eating, junk food and sedentary lifestyle. A fairly substantial number of youngsters we examined during the survey have already showed the first signs of the onset of a heart ailment – hyper cholesterol, high blood sugar and hypertension. The situation is steadily going out of control,” said Debashish Basu, a preventive medicine expert associated with the survey.
Instances of acquired heart ailments have been on the rise. Teenagers suffering from arrhythmia, hypertension or even a heart block are no longer very rare. Doctors insist they can no longer be taken as freak cases. Paediatric cardiologist Dhritabrata Das cited the instance of an 11–yearold girl who was recently diagnosed with a cardiac artery block and had to undergo a bypass surgery. It failed to save the girl.
A 22–year–old management student was luckier. A bypass managed to clear his clogged artery and save his life. “Ten years ago, these might have qualified as exceptional cases but no longer. We frequently come across teenagers with narrow arteries, high cholesterol and hypertension that would normally afflict those in the 50–plus age group. Earlier, we hardly came across a cardiac arrest patient younger than 40 years, but now even those in their early thirties are at risk. The seeds of the disease are being sowed early,” said Das. He added that this age could slide further in the next five years.
Heart conditions triggered by ailments like Kawasaki disease and rheumatic fever have also got more frequent. While the former leads to high fever with the usual viral infection–like symptoms, it tends to affect the heart by swelling the cardiac arteries. Rheumatic fever patients often have inflammation in their heart muscles.
As many as 18% of teenagers covered by the survey had impaired glucose tolerance which is a pre–diabetic condition. Around 12% were found to be genetically susceptible to cardio–vascular diseases. “This group is on the edge and could turn cardiac patients any moment. These are very young people, many of whom are still in school,” said Basu.
Cardiologists pointed out that apart from a faulty lifestyle, genetic disposition was also responsible for this trend. Indians, they said, were prone to fat deposition that invariably led to cardiac ailments. “Visceral or abdominal fat, in particular, was higher among Indians. So, unrestricted diet and lack of physical activity turn out to be more threatening for us. In cities, parents should keep a strict vigil on their children’s diet right from the time they turn two,” said Basu.
While earlier those weighing between 25 and 29 kg/sq m were taken to be overweight, it has now been revised to 23 kg/sq m for Indians. Nearly 25% of Kolkata teenagers have crossed the mark. Experts said a healthier diet pattern and more physical activities could reverse the situation.
Even those on the edge can cut out the risk of heart ailments just by restricting their food intake. “But it seems that it is unlikely to happen. In the last three years, more youngsters have grown fat and inched closer to cardiac diseases. Perhaps, we need a more intense campaign,” said Basu.