Unfit Irish teenagers are showing evidence of heart disease, according to a new study.
The ground-breaking study being carried out in Dublin City University on male transition year students has found teenagers with low fitness levels are showing worrying early signs of cardiovascular disease which Ireland's biggest killer accounting for a third of all deaths every year.
Tests in the ongoing study found 15-year-old boys with low fitness levels have less healthy blood vessels than high fit students, with some also showing signs of hypertension and high cholesterol.
The author of the study, Sinead Sheridan, said she has found a marked difference in cardiovascular health profile of children with high and moderate fitness levels and those who low levels of fitness.
"Heart disease begins in childhood due to exposure to risk factors such as inactivity, low fitness, and poor diet and we are now unfortunately seeing it in 15-year-old boys who have low levels of fitness," said the PhD researcher at the School of Health and Human Performance in DCU.
"What we've found so far that the kids in the low fit group have much higher LDL cholesterol, which is bad cholesterol, and they have much greater blood pressure and in some of the cases we've actually seen hypertension."
The author pointed out that the study found that unfit teenagers were not necessarily overweight.
"In our low fit the majority of the guys were overweight but there were also guys in the group who were actually very lean," she said.
"It is actually better to be overweight and fit than to be lean and unfit. Studies show that fitness trumps over all the other risk factors."
It has emerged recently that Irish primary school pupils spend less time in Physical Education classes than those of any other European member state.
Sinead, a graduate PE teacher from DCU, said the attitude towards fitness and physical exercise in schools needs to change.
"There is a lot of good work happening in schools," said Sinead. "But more needs to be done and it really should start at primary school level since heart disease begins very early in childhood."