By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

As the Great Recession left the U.S. economy in turmoil, the financial crisis also delivered a blow to the health of African-American teens, a new study finds.

The risk of metabolic syndrome, a common cluster of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, was found to be higher among several hundred African-Americans from rural Georgia who were 16 or 17 years old during the recession that lasted from 2007 to 2009.

“In previous studies, heart attack and stroke rates have gone up in older adults during economic downturns, particularly when the labor market is bad,” said Gregory E. Miller, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a professor of psychology at Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research in Evanston, Illinois. “But few, if any, studies have looked at how these same economic forces affect cardiovascular risk in younger people.”

In the study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers categorized participants into three groups based on their family’s economic path before and after the recession. Among those whose family incomes were low but stable, 10.4 percent had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome during the decade following the recession. That was compared to nearly 22 percent of those whose low family income dropped during the recession and almost 28 percent who were already living in poverty but became deeply impoverished.

The researchers speculate that the more a family’s financial situation deteriorated, the less likely the teens were to eat healthy and exercise. Stress may have also played a role, they said.

Researchers were surprised that the percentage of metabolic syndrome among the low-but-stable income group was so low. Nationally, about 18 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds are estimated to have metabolic syndrome.

“It may be that there were ‘protective resources’ that these teenagers drew upon that insulated them from the larger economic forces,” Miller said. “Strong family relationships, community ties through churches and schools are a real strength that may have offset some of the risk that came with the Great Recession.”