Rishi K., assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the study authors. “We are witnessing a smoldering public health crisis,” Vadera wrote in an email.
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The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, used data between 2009 and 2020 to examine whether young adults are at increased risk.
The results were mixed. Obesity (from 33 percent to 41 percent) and diabetes (from 3 percent to 4 percent) increased. Hypertension showed no meaningful improvement: it rose slightly from 9 percent to 11.5 percent, but the increase did not reach statistical significance.
Hyperlipidemia — high levels of cholesterol or triglycerides — dropped from 40.5 percent to 26 percent.
Young black adults face the greatest risk. Hypertension is twice as common in other racial and ethnic groups. Diabetes and obesity are also high.
The study’s authors point to structural racial inequalities in American society as a driver of the gaps.
“Young black individuals are more likely to live in low-income households that experience housing instability and food insecurity, as well as in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods,” Vadera said. “Black populations also disproportionately face challenges accessing primary and preventive care, and are more likely to live in ‘pharmaceutical deserts'” — a reference to areas where access to medicine is difficult.
High blood pressure is increasing among Hispanics, which is not evident among other groups.
Researchers say sodium-heavy diets and highly processed foods are among the factors contributing to high blood pressure among Hispanics. They asserted that it overrides lifestyle choices. When people struggle to pay the bills, they often turn to cheap, unhealthy food. Fresh produce is hard to come by in areas with few grocery stores.
The researchers suspect that the decline in young adults with high cholesterol is partly explained by a greater restriction of trans fats in the diet.
The study did not identify a significant difference in cardiovascular risk factors between men and women.
They also cautioned that because the study only covered up to 2020, it is unclear whether these trends have continued since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are some ways the study’s authors proposed to address the disparities:
- Expanding large-scale efforts to treat high blood pressure and treat it among young black adults.
- Screening people for diabetes early in life, as current guidelines mostly apply to people age 35 and older.
- Launch a public health campaign that addresses the rise in diabetes among Mexican American adults that is culturally competent and designed by community leaders.
- Creating more green spaces in communities that encourage exercise and combat sedentary lifestyles that contribute to obesity.
The study warned that unless action is taken to reverse the trends, the public health consequences will be dire.
“The increasing burden of risk factors we’ve observed among young people — especially if these trends continue — could cause a tsunami of cardiovascular disease over the long term, and ultimately, cardiovascular mortality increases as the U.S. population ages,” Vadera said. .