Teenagers who have high sugar consumption may be increasing their risk of heart disease

Last week I looked at an Australian paper which suggested that health promotion campaigns which target young people in their teens could help to reduce their risk of heart problems in adulthood.  A new (1) American study has now found that teenagers who consume a lot of added sugars, in drinks and foods, may have unhealthy cholesterol profiles which could lead to an increased risk of heart disease in adulthood.

High intakes of carbohydrate and sugar have been associated in previous studies with increased risk of heart disease in adults but the risk in teenagers has not been widely investigated.  This current study (1) looked at over 2100 US teenagers between 1999-2004.  Data for added sugar consumptions was collected from surveys and databases.  Measures of cardiovascular disease risk were estimated by added sugar consumption level (<10%, 10 to <15%, 15 to <20%, 20 to <25%, 25 to <30%, and 30% of total energy). Daily consumption of added sugars averaged at 21.4% of total energy.  The more added sugar teenagers ate the higher their levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and the lower their levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.  Blood fat (triglyceride) levels were also increased with increasing sugar intake.  The authors of the study conclude that “Consumption of added sugars among US adolescents is positively associated with multiple measures known to increase cardiovascular disease risk”.

In a press release the lead study scientist, Jean Welsh, said (2)This is the first study to assess the association of added sugars and the indicators of heart disease risk in adolescents,”. “The higher consumers of added sugar have more unfavorable cholesterol levels. The concern is long-term exposure would place them at risk for heart disease later in adulthood.

Jean Welsh added that (2)Adolescents are eating 20 percent of their daily calories in sugars that provide few if any other nutrients,”  “Sweet things have lost their status as treats.” “While Americans appear to be working hard to lower their intake of saturated fats, there is not the same awareness when it comes to added sugars,”  “The intake of added sugars is positively associated with known cardiovascular risk factors. Added sugars play a significant role in the U.S. diet, contributing substantially to energy intake without contributing important nutrients to the diet.” “Replacing sugar laden drinks with water is one way to substantially reduce sugar and calorie intake.”  I think that the same can be said for the UK and awareness of the risk of high sugar intakes and heart disease.

The research doesn’t prove that added sugars caused the differing cholesterol levels but the data does show a link.  Further studies are needed to fully understand the effects that added sugars in adolescence have on heart disease risk in adulthood.  Added sugars in drinks and foods provide added calories but little, if any, other nutritional benefits.  Cutting back on such products can only be good for health

(1)Welsh JA et al.  2011. Consumption of Added Sugars and Indicators of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Among US Adolescents.  Circulation.  Published online before print January 10, 2011, doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.972166

(2)Press release.  American Heart Association (2011, January 10). High sugar consumption may increase risk factors for heart disease in American teenagers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 11, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/01/110110164929.htm

Written by Ani Kowal