Obesity May Account for Rising Strokes in Youth

Head of a YouthStroke is generally a problem for older persons. Nonetheless, as much as 15 percent of all strokes happen to people between the ages of 18 and 50. What’s more, incidence is rising for younger people. A new study in Stroke offers good reasons to believe that rising obesity in young persons may account for some of the rise in strokes for people under 50.

In fact, the research shows that the risk of an ischemic stroke before 50 more than doubles if a person has obesity as a teen.

A Nationwide Study

Aya Bardugo and colleagues studied the records of medical screening of 1.9 million Israeli teens for military service. Data from the national stroke registry provided the source for stroke incidence in these individuals. The primary endpoint for this analysis was the incidence of ischemic stroke before the age of 50.

These researchers found an increase in the risk of these early strokes that went up steadily with body mass index in adolescence. For persons in the 50th to 84th percentile for BMI (the upper end of the “healthy” range), the risk was 30 percent higher than persons with a lower BMI. In the range of overweight, the risk was higher by 60 percent. Then, with a BMI in the range of obesity, the risk went up by 140 percent – more than double the risk of someone with a BMI below the 50th percentile.

These patterns held true when the endpoint was a stroke before the age of 30.

Rising Obesity, Rising Strokes

Just as obesity is going up in children and youth, so is the incidence of stroke in younger adults. In 1993 for U.S. adults 20 to 44, the incidence of stroke was 17 per 100,000 adults. In 2015, it rose to 28 per 100,000 – a 65 percent increase.

But it’s worth noting that there’s a time delay in this relationship. Effects of the present rises in youth obesity will show up in young adults for another 30 years.

The bottom line here is simple. Health policy regarding youth obesity has been smug for years – presuming that unproven measures to prevent obesity bring obesity rates down. But that has not happened and meanwhile, access to effective obesity care for youth with severe obesity is poor.

We can no longer afford to leave young people at risk for the complications of untreated obesity. Stroke is just one of many such complications. It is, however, quite devastating for a young adult.

Click here for the study and here for further perspective. For an excellent review of stroke in young adults, click here.

Head of a Youth, painting by Théodore Géricault / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


May 16, 2021