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Teenagers' diet affects their health later in life

Whether a teenager eats crisps or vegetables is not unimportant: New research from Aarhus University shows that there is a correlation between the dietary habits of young girls and their blood pressure and cholesterol level when they reach the ages of 40-50. An appropriate diet can even prevent illness.

A new Danish study carried out in collaboration with American researchers, shows that there is a correlation between what teenage girls eat and drink and their risk of developing elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure in middle-age. 

The more appropriate their diet is, the greater their chance of avoiding the initial stages of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels when they pass the age of forty.
The study shows that the risk decreases by a fifth (21 per cent).

"This is the first time we are able to show a correlation on a very large scale, even though we have suspected there was a correlation," says the article's primary author, Associate Professor Christina C. Dahm from The Department of Public Health at Aarhus University.

At the same time, the new study is one of very few that are not focused on dietary habits in children or adults, but which concentrate on the intermediate level with teenagers who are then followed all the way to adulthood.

Data from a total of 27,406 female American nurses, who were followed for 13 years, forms the basis for the results, which have now been published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA).

Does changing your habits have an effect?

The researchers have mainly studied the significance of dietary habits in relation to the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. In addition to the correlation between blood pressure and cholesterol, what they expected to find was a correlation between the development of type 2 diabetes, strokes and heart attacks in middle age – but they have been unable to establish this correlation.

The study has focused on the importance of:

1)      Starting to eat healthily as a teenager

2)      Continuing to eat healthily

3)      Starting to eat healthily as an adult

"What we can see is that it is not too late to change your habits in your forties in relation to clinical risk factors: Eating healthily throughout your life has great value in itself, but even if you have not eaten healthily as an adolescent, you will still benefit from changing your habits as an adult," says Christina C. Dahm.

Healthy diet and what ought to be avoided

The study has taken its starting point in specific foods, which subsequently appear to be healthy and less beneficial respectively in relation to the risk factors described:

Vegetables, fruits and berries, grains, nuts, beans and lentils, plant oils (polyunsaturated fatty acids) as well as oily fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon or sardines).

On the other hand, you should limit your intake of:
Juice and other sugary drinks, red and/or processed meat, trans-unsaturated fatty acids from e.g. margarine, and salt (from e.g. bread, cheese, pizza, pasta, popcorn and crisps).

In other words, the dietary habits identified in the article harmonise with the official dietary recommendations which Danes are familiar with thanks to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. 

Alcohol consumption is not included in the study.

Background for the results: 

  • The study is a registry study based on data from 27,406 women from an American cohort. The women have been sent a questionnaire every two years. Over time as some of the participants received one of the diagnoses, their data was excluded for the following year. This meant that there were only 13,740 participants during the final years up to 2011.
  • Researchers from The Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, have collaborated with American researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston.
  • The study is financed by, among others, The Carlsberg Foundation, The DIPI project (Diet and Prevention of Ischemic Heart Disease: A Translational Approach) supported by The Danish Council for Strategic Research (now Innovation Fund Denmark), and the International Network Programme under The Ministry of Higher Education and Science.
  • Read the article ”Adolescent Diet Quality and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors and Incident Cardiovascular Disease in Middle-Aged Women” 



Contact information:

Associate Professor Christina C. Dahm
Aarhus University, Department of Public Health – Section for Epidemiology
Mobile: (+45) 2332 1875