Assumed immortality is pretty much a standard feature in the psyche of most teenagers. Indeed, I remember my youth, driving at speeds up to 120 MPH (at least that's as high as my car's speedometer went) on deserted Orange County roads, seeing who who could take the most head blows before falling over, rope swinging over 40-foot drops. Sigh. Childhood. We all did that sort of stuff, right?
Ahem, okay, well, maybe I was a little extreme, but still, kids tend to think they'll live forever. And, while we as grown-ups do our best to steer them clear of drag racing, deliberate brain cell destruction, and Kamikaze Tarzan-like behavior, we fail miserably when it comes to food. Most parents, including myself, do our best to teach kids about the benefits of proper nutrition, but the general ethos seems to be that they can get away with eating more crap than us adults for now. They burn it off with those crazy adolesent metabolisms, right? Furthermore, they have the whole rest of their lives to fix those mistakes.
Maybe not so much. A couple recent studies have shown that what's eaten in youth doesn't necessarily stay in youth.
The first study, appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week, confirms what several similar studies have been saying for years. Overweight kids don't necessarily burn off the baby fat. They tend to become overweight adults.
Natalie S. The, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues conducted a study to determine the incidence and risk of severe obesity in adulthood among individuals who were obese during adolescence. The study group included 8,834 individuals, ages 12 to 21 years, who were enrolled in 1996 in wave II of the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, followed up into adulthood (ages 18-27 years during wave III [2001-2002] and ages 24-33 years during wave IV [2007-2009]). Height and weight measures of the participants were obtained and surveys administered in study participants' homes using standardized procedures. New cases of adult-onset severe obesity were calculated by sex, race/ethnicity, and adolescent weight status, and results were weighted for national representation.
In 1996, 79 (1.0 percent) adolescents were severely obese; 60 (70.5 percent) remained severely obese in adulthood. Over the 13-year period between adolescence (1996) and adulthood (2007-2009), a total of 703 new cases of severe obesity in adulthood were observed, indicating a total incidence rate of 7.9 percent. The researchers found that individuals with incident severe obesity in adulthood had a higher adolescent BMI and were more likely to be racial/ethnic minorities compared with individuals without severe obesity.
As I said, there's a bit of a "Duh! Really?" factor there, but this next study uncovers a more insidious long-term affliction. The American Heart Association this week used computer modeling to illustrate that by lowering a teenager's sodium intake, you can potentially reduce their chances of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke in adulthood.
By reducing the salt teenagers eat each day by 3 grams, researchers projected through modeling a 44 percent to 63 percent (380,000 to 550,000) decrease in the number of hypertensive teenagers and young adults. They estimated a 30 percent to 43 percent decrease (2.7 to 3.9 million) in the number of hypertensives at ages 35 to 50.
Apparently, teenagers eat over 3,800mg of sodium a day. I get dehydrated just reading that number. I guess it's good to know that if I'm ever suffering some kind of salt deficiency, I can just lick a teenager. The difficult part would just be getting the judge to accept my motivation.
Anyway, I'm not 100% sure how to process this new information. I have a hard time getting my 6-year-old to make wise food choices. I shudder to think what it's going to be like when she's 16. At least I'll have a little more ammo thanks to this study. That, and I'm guessing she'll be somewhat alarmed by the idea of being licked by strangers suffering from hyponatremia.
A tip o' the Real Fitness Nerd hat to the first Nerd Herder to identify the creature reference above.