Dietary habits of young people - the corner-stone for later lifestyle illnesses?

When do our prosperity begin to cause illnesses? Did Lifestyle illnesses exist in the past?

Fast foods and convenience products are particularly enjoyed by today's youth, with increasing popularity. And, while the high fat, sugar and salt content of these foods is often denounced, these denouncements do not seem to stop anyone from reaching for another burger or frozen pizza.

An obvious thought was that the disposition for lifestyle illnesses, which can later raise factors of risk for a cardiac infarct or apoplexy and/or the metabolic syndrome, is already shaped through poor nutrition and little exercise in the younger age groups. Thus we had the idea to do a small epidemiological study at our school, and more importantly to motivate as many of our schoolmates as possible to become more health conscious.

Our goal was to answer the following questions:
How do young people actually eat?
Do these habits already reflect in a blood cell count, or in deviations in the standard measurements of body fats or the liver?

Can one already diagnose the metabolic syndrome in the 14-19 age group?
What is the students' status on trace elements, particularly iron and copper?
Are there already signs of a change to the liver tissue in the younger age groups?
How can one motivate young people to eat healthily?

An extensive and standardized questionnaire of eating habits

with dietary-relevant health values was adapted for the pupils of the HLFS Ursprung. The aim was to gather information in a way that would scientifically valuable.

All the volunteers who participated in the analysis were offered a detailed report: Lipid levels, cholesterol, fasting blood sugar and liver conditions, creatin, urea, a complete blood cell count, a complete evaluation of their iron, copperm caeruloplasim, zinc and other nutrient levels. Also we took the volunteers' blood, performed an ultrasound on their liver, and took various physical measurements.

Of course all of this was done with complete anonymity, as all of the data was identifiable only by a unique bar code and pin number. So while the examiners could tell what measurements matched which blood samples, there was no way to know to whom they belonged.

All of the pupils who were examined also attended a lecture by Dr. Elmar Aigner, where he explained the reasoning for each measurement, or tested substance, what role the area or substance plays in the body, and what a normal, low or high result meant from a scientific, and medical, perspective.

Particularly interesting was the physiology of the trace elements within the body. Thanks to the testing, everyone had the means to examine their trace element levels and determine whether or not they fit into the normal range. And with the doctor present, they could also ask any questions about possible deviations from the norm.

Some were startled to see that their tests already showed signs of various lifestyle illnesses and planned to change their diet accordingly. We were very proud that our testing encompassed 325 students, roughly 95% of the student body at HLFS Ursprung.

At our school we were able to see a clear trend in the development of prosperity diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, whose presence even in early stages should be take very seriously. A higher level of iron and copper seem to stand in a positive relationship to a more pronounced risk of cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance, although our samples' insulin levels seemed to be relatively normal.

For adults a common treatment for too much iron is the old solution of bleeding the patient.

Our results show that with the increased levels in young people the current standards of what is normal may need to be reconsidered.

The role of copper also needs closer medical and physiological examination to determine if our heightened copper findings represent a cause of an illness or the effect of one already present, which would also offer a therapeutic starting point.

Finally we were able to recognize the very close relationship between the consumption of alcohol, as well as the regularity of meals as developing factors of risk. In the face of our results we feel that there needs to be better education for this age group, in regards to the effects of their dietary habits and alcohol consumption, as well as the dangers of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Special attention should be paid to this type of education as a preventive in our public health policy.

In the course of the project we also developed recipes for an organic snack, which resemble popular nibbles, but contain many healthy ingredients.

We are proud that as a result of our research a med student will take up the topic for her thesis work and other research papers on this subject are already being planned. Dr. Elmar Aigner and Univ. - Professor Dr. Christian Datz aim at continuing scientific investigations, in order to support our evaluations.

For the first time now students of HLFS Ursprung will have the chance to be co-authors on a paper published in a scientific journal.