An elevated number of adolescents are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, there are insufficient resources and personnel to provide preventative care, according to a study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
A study found that 39% of US youth aged 12-19 are overweight or obese, 15% have high blood pressure, 53% have abnormal lipids, and 18% have prediabetes. These risk factors are linked to premature heart attack and stroke.
For this study, researchers led by Dr. Amanda Perak from Northwestern University and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Illinois, surveyed several pediatric cardiology divisions and clinicians across the US and Canada for a duration of 30 years.
The researchers found a high incidence of adolescents with risk factors for cardiovascular diseases but significantly limited resources and personnel to provide the timely, preventive care they need.
The high demand for pediatric cardiologists and limited resources means that children with risk factors for heart disease often must wait several months, sometimes up to a year, to see a specialist. According to the researchers, this time wasted could save their lives and prevent an impending heart attack or stroke at a young age.
“It’s unfortunate because pediatrics is such a great opportunity to address these risk factors before they often disappear from clinical care for a while as young adults when maybe they’ll be more at risk because they haven’t been looked at for so long,” Dr. Perak said.
The researchers also fear that the long waiting time may wrongfully indicate that screening for risk factors is unnecessary.
“Parents with children on a long wait list might be panicking, but they might also get the message ‘this isn’t that important,” Dr. Perak said. “They’ve been referred by their primary care provider, but the longer they’re on this waitlist, the more likely they are to not go to the appointment because months later, life has changed, more things are going on, who knows where the cholesterol levels are.”
The researchers call on policymakers and health care systems to devote more resources to heart disease prevention in adolescents, such as an increased investment in pediatric preventive cardiology and more research to inform clinical care. They added that there should be collaboration between programs to develop best practices.
“We’re not talking about primordial prevention — they’ve already got risk factors and are at risk for having an early heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Perak concluded. “It’s the difference between treating and controlling their risk over time versus letting that risk factor damage their vessels over many years to the point you’ve lost ground.”
Source: Science Daily