Young Baltimore Teens Offered Free Screening for Heart Disease Risk Factors
Some 30 Johns Hopkins cardiologists, nurses, technical staff and administrative volunteers have for the first time partnered with Baltimore City Public Schools to screen for early signs of heart disease in as many as 2,000 high-school-bound Baltimore-area students.
The 13-year-olds and their parents will be among thousands of city residents attending an annual high school fair at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Saturday, Nov. 13. Starting at 9 a.m. and continuing to 2 p.m., the Johns Hopkins team will offer free examinations at no charge to students to screen for key risk factors of heart disease, such as obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, and a family history of heart disease.
The inaugural risk-screening program is an extension of a Johns Hopkins initiative begun in 2007 that has already screened some 600 top-ranked Maryland high-school athletes, ages 14 to 18, for signs of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, inherited heart abnormalities that can lead to sudden, potentially fatal heart rhythm disturbances often triggered by intense exercise.
“One of the surprise findings from our other heart screenings was that basic risk factors for cardiovascular disease are too common among Maryland high-school students, and these students and their parents are simply unaware that they face a serious health problem,” says Theodore Abraham, M.D., a cardiologist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital who is spearheading the screening efforts. Abraham, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart and Vascular Institute, points out that among the physically strong track sprinters, hurdlers and long jumpers tested to date, 20 percent were technically obese, having a body mass index of more than 25, and some 30 percent had hypertension, with blood pressure readings greater than 130 millimeters of mercury over 80 millimeters of mercury.
“Our disease-screening program is designed to reach young people early, before bad eating and exercise lifestyle habits become engrained, and maximize opportunities to intervene before actual heart disease takes hold,” says Abraham, whose goal is to have such screening programs in high schools across the country.
With parental approval, students will answer a 14-question health survey to identify any immediate, personal or family history of heart disease. The survey asks about any recent occurrences of chest pain, shortness of breath or fainting, or use of prescription heart medicines. The students, all bound for grade 9 in 2011, will then have their weight and blood pressure recorded, and a finger-prick blood test. Healthy blood cholesterol levels for an average high school student, experts say, is any combination of HDL and LDL that is less than 200 milligrams per deciliter. Blood sugar levels, as an indicator of diabetes, should be no higher than 140 milligrams per deciliter. Every student examined will receive a raffle ticket for any one of 100 $25 Walmart gift certificates.
“We are very grateful to Baltimore City Schools officials Michael Sarbanes, Jonathan Brice, Debbie Thomas and CEO Andrés A. Alonso, Ed.D., for agreeing to host this important health initiative. We think it is a good way to promote and encourage awareness among school-age children and their parents about the risks of heart disease in the city,” says Abraham, who notes that the screening initiative was made possible with materials and equipment support from The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Abraham will be available Saturday for interviews at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, located at 1400 East Cold Spring Lane, at the corner of East Cold Spring Lane and the I-83/Jones Falls Expressway, in Baltimore, Md., 21209. Saturday interviews can be arranged with Abraham at 410-963-9451.
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