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Study: Adolescents With These 3 Risk Factors Aged Faster as Adults

March 03, 2022

Adolescents who smoked daily or were diagnosed with obesity or a psychological disorder aged faster than their peers, according to research by a group of international authors published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Study participants who had at least two of the three risk factors between ages 11 and 15 walked at age 45 about 2 inches per second slower, looked about four years older in the face and had a “brain age” 2.5 years older. The researchers said each of the risk factors has been associated with chronic inflammation and an imbalance of free radicals (which cause disease) and antioxidants (which prevent or delay disease).

“As more Americans put on excess pounds, the rate of obesity-related cancers is increasing,” says Dr. Andrew L. Salner, Medical Director of Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital. “These include malignancies of the liver, kidneys, pancreas and uterus, cancers of the breast in postmenopausal women and colon and rectal cancers in adults younger than 55.

“Studies have found that obesity, unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity are associated with metabolic and hormone abnormalities and with chronic inflammation, which may help explain their link to cancer,”

Researchers analyzed long-term data from 910 participants in the New Zealand Dunedin study who were born between April 1972 and March 1973. They were monitored from ages 3 to 45.

Asthma, a fourth risk factor, did not affect the participants’ aging factor composite score — unlike results from previous studies.

Data analyzed by the researchers also included:

  • Body mass index (BMI).
  • Waist-to-hip ratio.
  • Blood tests.
  • Blood pressure.
  • Cholesterol.
  • Levels of certain hormones.
  • Brain MRI.
  • Tooth decay.
  • Gum disease.
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness.

The researchers said any risk factor treated during adolescence could reduce the risk of accelerated biological aging and chronic disease.

“Quitting smoking is important in helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues,” says Dr. Jason Cuomo, a Heart & Vascular Institute cardiologist at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain. “Exercise is also extremely important.”


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