Thursday, October 19, 2023

Latinx Youth With MH Problems May Have Greater Cardiometabolic Risks in Later Adolescence

Latinx middle schoolers who experience internalizing symptoms such as anxiety or depression have a greater risk of developing sleep problems, being overweight or obese, and engaging in sedentary behavior by the time they reach high school, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Irrefutable evidence identifies mental health as an important correlate of health behaviors and physical health outcomes underlying cardiometabolic risk,” wrote Kathleen Roche, M.S.W., Ph.D., of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University and colleagues. “Public health concerns regarding increased cardiometabolic risks are elevated for the large and growing Latinx population.”

Roche and colleagues used data from the Pathways to Health/Caminos al Bienestar, an ongoing longitudinal study of Latinx adolescents and mothers. The researchers focused on middle school students enrolled in a suburban Atlanta school district during the 2017-2018 school year. The participants completed online surveys at baseline, then once every six months over four years. The surveys included a 29-item measure assessing the participants’ internalizing symptoms, including anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, and somatic symptoms (such as headache and stomachache) over the past six months.

The surveys also assessed participants’ sedentary behavior (total number of hours spent sitting during a weekday) and frequency of vigorous physical activity. The surveys included the 16-item version of the Food Habits Scale to determine whether the participants ate a healthy diet, and sleep problems were assessed using the 13-item Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. Participants reported their height and weight, from which the authors calculated their BMI. Finally, participants also reported if they had been diagnosed with diabetes, prediabetes, or high blood pressure.

At baseline, the 547 participants were, on average, 13 years old. The authors found that, even after adjusting for covariates, internalizing symptoms at baseline were associated with more sedentary behavior, more sleep problems, higher risk of being overweight or obesity, less vigorous physical activity, and a less healthy diet four years later. Further, being overweight or obese was associated with greater risk of diabetes or hypertension, and healthy diets were associated with increased odds of engaging in more vigorous physical activity.

“Importantly, the pathways linking early adolescent mental health to later health behaviors and physical health outcomes held even when adjusting for the co-occurrence of outcome variables and for internalizing symptoms during middle and late adolescence,” the authors wrote. “Our findings point to early adolescence as a critical developmental period for shaping later health behaviors and physical health outcomes.”

The authors also called for culturally informed studies on the links between mental and physical health so that intervention efforts can be targeted at the growing population of U.S. Latinx adolescents.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Psychiatrists Call for Action After CDC Data Reveal Worsening of Youth Mental Health Crisis.”

(Image: iStock/Ole Schwander)

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