Overweight children and young people with diabetes have a significantly higher risk of having strokes decades before their healthier peers, a new study has found.
"This is scary and very concerning," says Dr. Brett Kissela, the study's lead author and an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "It shows that stroke is not just a disease of the elderly."
The study, released Wednesday, showed an elevated rate of stroke among African-Americans and whites ages 20 to 45. But the stroke rate among young whites doubled, from 12 to 25 per 100,000.
The findings are based on a review of data collected from patients from five counties in Ohio and Northern Kentucky from 1993 to 2005. They were presented Wednesday at the American Stroke Association's conference in San Antonio.
Kissela said the study appears to be the first of its kind to pinpoint the increased rate of strokes among the young, in part because the problem didn't exist decades ago.
"We may be raising the first generation that might not live as long as their parents," said Dr. William Hacker, Kentucky's commissioner of public health. "It's simply another reflection of the impact of the change in diet and physical activity."
Kentucky children have the highest rate of obesity in the country, according to the Childhood Obesity Action Network. About 38 percent of Kentucky's children are obese, compared to 30 percent nationally.
That number continues to rise, said Kissela, meaning stroke rates also are likely to increase. It's important for doctors and young people to be aware of the potential risk so the proper medication and treatment can be prescribed.
"There is a natural tendency for young people not to go to the doctor or to look for these kinds of things," he said.
Prevention is the best medicine, Hacker said. Health departments have nutritionists to help with diet, offer diabetes education and refer people to other help.