If you’re a parent of a teenager, you’re probably familiar with the mood swings hormone surges can produce. You know how they affect temperament — but what about heart health?
Although hormone changes and rapid growth can cause temporary changes in cholesterol levels or blood pressure, hormonal surges don’t pose a real health risk, said Dr. Stephen Daniels, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
“Adolescence is a time of lots of change in the body — most predominantly changes in growth,” said Dr. Daniels, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer. “These biological changes can have an impact on what we think of as risk factors, such as cholesterol and blood pressure. But it’s not as much about the hormones as it is about all the things that are happening in that time frame that actually influence teen health.”
A mix of psychological, physical and environmental changes and, most importantly, behaviors and decision making, can affect a teen’s health. With new choices, experiences and influences, many teens crave peer acceptance and want to fit in, all of which influence health decisions. Choices about smoking, diet and physical activity are critical.
Smoking is one of the most critical health topics a teen can tackle. In fact, 68 percent of adults who smoke began smoking regularly at age 18, and every day almost 3,900 adolescents under 18 try their first cigarette, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Talk to your kids about smoking. Don’t underestimate your influence — if you smoke your child is more likely to smoke too. Learn more about quitting yourself.
Another key factor is physical activity. Studies have shown that a child’s physical activity level can decrease during adolescence. This may be an even bigger concern for teen girls than boys, according to Dr. Daniels.
“This is a time when some girls begin to decrease their physical activity,” Dr. Daniels said. “Unfortunately, not only may this affect weight and health but we know that once it’s decreased it may never get back to the pre-teen level.”
Be sure and encourage physically activities at home, at school and with your child’s friends. Learn how to find time get the whole family heart healthy.
As teens spend more time outside the home, peers often have a bigger influence on what they eat. About one in three kids in the United States is overweight or obese. Eating out, larger portion sizes and lack of activity are major culprits. An overweight child has a 70 to 80 percent chance of staying overweight as an adult. It’s important to establish good habits at home now.
What can you do?
Don’t underestimate your influence as a parent, even when your kids act like it doesn’t count. Talk to your teen about the importance of diet, physical activity and not smoking. And help foster a healthy environment. If you smoke, quit, eat healthy meals together and get moving as a family so your teen will have healthy habits to carry forward.
Make sure your child visits the doctor regularly. Dr. Daniels recommends kids get their cholesterol tested before puberty. Blood pressure should be checked regularly and height and weight measured to calculate BMI, which gives your doctor important information about your child’s health. Your doctor will also watch for Type 2 diabetes, which usually doesn’t occur in childhood but can begin in adolescence.
Part of puberty is becoming more resistant to insulin (the body isn’t as sensitive to it), which can cause the body to produce more than needed, especially if your child is overweight. And if your teen has a cardiovascular condition or heart defect, it’s even more important to visit your doctor.