GOTHENBERG, Sweden — Generally, heart failure and stroke is much more common in older adults than younger individuals. However, an unsettling new study reports more and more younger adult men under 40 are experiencing both.
Conducted by researchers from the University of Gothenberg, this research also discovered a link between these higher rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity or low fitness levels as a teenager.
This was a large study, encompassing 1,258,432 men with an average age of 18 who served in Sweden’s military between 1971 and 1995. Each participant’s weight, height, and fitness level upon enlistment was merged with data from Sweden’s national health records between 1991 and 2016. This allowed study authors to effectively monitor the group’s health outcomes for more than 20 years.
Between 1971 and 1995, the percentage of new military recruits with a BMI between 25 and 30 increased from 6.6 percent to 11.2 percent. During that same period, obese enlistees (with a BMI over 30) also increased from one percent to 2.6 percent. Overall fitness levels also declined somewhat during those two-plus decades.
“These factors — that is, overweight, obesity and low fitness — partly explain the large increase in heart failure we see in the study, and the rise in stroke as well,” states first study author David Åberg in a university release.
“It’s pleasing to see, despite rising obesity, a fairly sharp fall in heart attacks among these younger men, and also their reduced mortality from cardiovascular diseases,” the specialist doctor at Sahlgrenska University Hospital continues.
Strokes are increasing, but fatal heart attacks are dropping
Additionally, the rate of heart failure cases between men who enlisted between 1971-1975 and those enlisting between 1991-1995 increased by 69 percent; going from 0.49 per 1,000 men to 0.83 for every 1,000 men. Both varieties of stroke (cerebral infarction and cerebral hemorrhage) showed similar trajectories over time. Cerebral infarction strokes rose by 32 percent while cerebral hemorrhage strokes increased by 20 percent.
Interestingly, both heart attack and overall deaths linked to heart issues actually declined over the same period. Over the studied period, heart attacks decreased by 43 percent and deaths dropped by 50 percent.
These conflicting findings suggest that there is still much to uncover. Study authors speculate other, unknown factors are influencing heart health outcomes. For instance, tobacco use has dropped in Sweden considerably since the 1970s, which may partially explain the decrease in heart attacks.
“We see that heart attacks would have decreased even more if it hadn’t been for the rise in overweight and obesity. Our results thus provide strong support for thinking that obesity and, to some extent, low fitness by the age of 18 affect early-onset cardiovascular disease. So at societal level, it’s important to try to get more physical activity, and to have already established good eating habits by adolescence, while being less sedentary,” Åberg concludes.
The study is published in the Journal of Internal Medicine.