Atherosclerosis among African American Teenagers
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is brought about by heart and blood vessels disorders (WHO, 2015). There are two underlying mechanisms through which CVDs occur. Fatty deposits (plaques or atheroma) can build up inside an artery causing it to narrow and harden (atherosclerosis) or a blood clot (thrombosis) can reduce blood flow to the heart, brain or body (NHS Choices, n.d.).Risk factors for CVDs include the harmful use of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, genetics, and tobacco use. Cardiovascular diseases include raised blood pressure (hypertension), cerebrovascular disease (stroke), coronary heart disease (heart attacks), heart failure, peripheral artery disease, rheumatic heart disease, and congenital heart disease (WHO, 2015).
Atherosclerosis among African-American teenagers is a growing concern and particularly among girls (Healy, 2013). Atherosclerosis which originates in childhood (Healy, 2013)is a critical risk factor for CVDs especially as one age (NHS Choices, 2014). The growing concern stems from the increase in the number of risk factors like genetics, ethnicity, diabetes, gender, physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet (a high-fat diet leading to obesity or overweight). The higher prevalence of obesity and overweight make them susceptible to chronic diseases (CAHPERD, 2010). Obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. There are various causes of obesity and overweight among African-American youth. First, the food environment is such that there is limited or no access to affordable healthy foods. There are no neighborhood supermarkets thus consumption of vegetables and fruits are limited. Furthermore, African-American schools have less access to healthy foods (fruits and vegetables). Therefore, there is a low intake of fruits, vegetables and fish and high intake of trans-fats, salt and saturated fat which is linked to cardiovascular risk (Mendis et. al., 2011).
Second, media presence and influence poses a major challenge to regular physical activity and healthy eating (CAHPERD, 2010).African-American teenagers spend more time watching television than their Hispanic and White peers. During this period, there is an increased intake of calories. Furthermore, these teens are exposed more to unhealthy food advertisements due to the increased time spent watching television than their counterparts. Third, the built environment which includes safety limit, transportation, and infrastructure hinder physical activity for African-American youth. African American neighborhoods rarely have parks, pools, green spaces or beaches, hence lesser opportunities for physical activity. Moreover, they report more barriers to physical activity such as safety concerns, transportation problems, availability, and expense of opportunities (CAHPERD, 2010).
In developed countries, atherosclerosis is the largest cause of death and serious complications such as heart attacks or stroke(NHS Choices, 2014). Due to the ongoing obesity epidemic, atherosclerosis will continue to be a chief source of health problems. Many African-American teenagers and youth encounter several barriers to active living and healthy eating(CAHPERD, 2010). Therefore, they are more susceptible to obesity and overweight than their peers. Subsequently, they are at higher risk of developing chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases. This can be remedied by restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods, increasing the accessibility of healthy foods in schools and communities, improving the built environment such as infrastructure and transport, and addressing neighborhood safety concerns(CAHPERD, 2010). Furthermore, there should be a promotion of policies that decrease socio-economic inequalities such as equal distribution of power, education, healthcare, nutrition, housing and environmental factors (Di Cesare et. al., 2013).
California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (CAHPERD). (2010, May). Overweight and Obesity among African-American Youths. Leadership for health communities, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.cahperd.org/cms-assets/documents/28168-686161.overweightobesityafricanameryouth.pdf, on 09th February 2016.
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Healy, M.(2013, April 01).American teens getting early start on heart disease risk, survey says. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from:http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/01/news/la-heb-teens-heart-disease-20130401, on 09th February 2016.
Mendis, S. Puska, P.&Norrving, B. (2011). Global Atlas on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Control. World Health Organization in collaboration with the World Heart Federation and the World Stroke Organization. pp. 3–18. ISBN 978-92-4-156437-3.
NHS Choices. (2014, June 13). Atherosclerosis. NHS UK. Retrieved from: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Atherosclerosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx, on 09th February 2016.
NHS Choices. (n.d.). Cardiovascular disease. NHS UK. Retrieved from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/cardiovascular-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx, on 09th February 2016.
World Health Organization (WHO). (2015, January). Cardiovascular diseases. Health Topics. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/topics/cardiovascular_diseases/en/, on 09th February 2016.