Unfit teens have same heart risk as 60-year-olds
Unfit, overweight Irish teenagers are at the same risk of heart-related disease as a 60-year-old man, according to shocking new research.
A study of Transition Year students in the greater Dublin area has shown that they have the cardiovascular age of someone 40 years or more older.
Professor Niall Moyna, Head of the School of Health and Human Performance at Dublin City University (DCU), where the research was conducted, described the findings as "frightening".
Most of the unfit students were overweight or obese; 85pc had high blood pressure; more than 90pc had high levels of fat in the blood; 62pc were a step away from diabetes; and 87pc had a vascular age of 55-60.
Professor Moyna, who is well known for his role in RTE's Operation Transformation, described it as "a time-bomb ticking. They have an increased risk of stroke at 15 and of vascular dementia in old age."
The DCU study, carried out by Dr Sinead Sheridan, involved a number of schools where students went through the "bleep" fitness test, involving continuous running between two points for a period of time.
Unfit students were identified and underwent a series of further tests, including ultrasound imaging, while blood samples were screened for biomarkers that indicate the presence of a disease.
Most unfit or overweight students show some health-risk factors, including increased likelihood of developing a disease. But the findings about the extent of damage to blood vessels supplying the heart and brain sparked a new level of alarm. The full findings will be published soon.
Prof Moyna, who was speaking at the annual conference of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) on what students need for 21st century living, called for an annual fitness test of students to identify those at risk.
He said that such tests would allow for necessary intervention, pointing out that risks can be reversed up to the age of 30.
Prof Moyna told the conference that health gets the least amount of attention in Irish schools and that the health of children is being neglected.
He warned that Irish children are becoming more sedentary and said that only 12pc of second-level students are meeting the minimum recommendation for 60 minutes physical activity a day.
"98pc of obese children go on to become obese adults, and so there is a need to teach good behavioural habits in the early years," he said.
Prof Moyna also wants to see more time given to physical activity in primary schools, and at second-level that should evolve into education about good lifestyle choices.