Fredrickson: CSU study should prompt students to pay attention to heart health

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

Colorado is one of the healthiest states in the nation, and college students are usually among the healthier demographics. Colorado State University is not the place where one would typically worry about heart disease.

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A study by a CSU researcher has found that students are at greater risk for heart disease than they think. Students should take this research to heart and start paying attention to their cardiovascular health.

Wendy DeYoung’s study showed that 85 percent of students have some risk factor for heart disease. These were the most common ones.

Wendy DeYoung, an instructor in Exercise Physiology at CSU, conducted a study of 180 students and found that 84 percent of them had at least one risk factor for heart disease. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America, and it has been referred to as ‘the silent killer’ because of how asymptomatically it may develop.

The most common risk factors were nicotine use and a family history of heart disease. DeYoung also evaluated factors like BMI, blood pressure, inactivity, and weight.

Her study showed that men are at greater risk than women, which is concerning given previous research showing that all college student but men especially are likely to overlook their risk.

DeYoung measured perceptions as well as actual risk, and uncovered an interesting result: “I found that the reality of having one or multiple heart disease risk factors was much higher than the perception of having an elevated risk factor or factors,” DeYoung wrote in a report for The Conversation.

So, college students are at much greater risk than they think they are for heart disease. This study was conducted among CSU students, and this group of students is less likely than the average US college student to have high blood pressure or obesity, implying that the outlook portrayed by this study may actually be conservative compared to the rest of the country.

This study emphasizes the need for students to understand their actual risk for heart disease, and to take that risk seriously and start mitigating it now. Physicians should more actively screen college students for the precursors to heart disease, and students should take their heart health into their own hands.

“I found that the reality of having one or multiple heart disease risk factors was much higher than the perception of having an elevated risk factor or factors.”

– Wendy DeYoung, instructor of Exercise Physiology

Nicotine use is a major factor in heart disease, and it doesn’t just come from smoking. Although many people perceive hookah as a safer way to use nicotine, the scientific jury doesn’t support this because hookah involves more puffs and holding the nicotine in the lungs for a longer period of time. The CDC emphasizes that hookah is not a safe alternative to cigarettes. Similarly, although generally considered less harmful than cigarettes, e-cigarettes still contain nicotine and can still increase risk for heart disease.

Cutting tobacco and nicotine products is always a good health plan. These products have no health benefits and a vast amount of health risks.

Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle may put students at increased risk. Colorado is more active than much of the country, but students, by virtue of spending all day in classes or studying, tend to be a fairly sedentary population. Regular walking or biking can help offset the harms of this large amount of sitting. Spending a lot of time motionless can increase blood pressure and risks for some cardiovascular diseases.

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Decrease risk of heart disease by increasing activity, using free counseling sessions, quitting all nicotine products, and being aware that being a college student doesn’t mean you can’t be at risk for heart disease.

Students are also a stressed-out group of people, which isn’t good for heart health either. Students should remember that they get five free sessions at Counseling Services each semester, and take advantage of this to reduce anxiety.

These are some actions individual students can take to decrease their personal risk for heart disease, but it is important to also bear in mind DeYoung’s finding about perception versus reality – many students may read about this study and think that there’s no way they could be at risk, when their cholesterol and blood pressure may actually be much higher than they think it is. The university should take this research and use it to implement programs about cardiovascular health for college students.

This study of CSU students sheds light on heart disease risk for students who may not think they are at risk. The University should take steps to educate and screen students, and students should be more aware of the risks and start caring about their heart health.

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42