Atherosclerosis starts early in life. We aimed to assess the dimension and progression of the intima-media thickness, a surrogate marker for early vascular aging, and its association with a broad palette of cardiovascular risk and lifestyle factors in a large cohort of healthy adolescents.
The EVA-Tyrol cohort study enrolled 1573 adolescents with a mean age of 16.0 years (SD 0.9). 1000 participants had a prospective follow-up after 22.1 months on average (SD 3.4). Cardiovascular risk and lifestyle factors were evaluated by standardized interviews, physical examination, and fasting blood analyses. Carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) was measured at baseline and follow-up by high-resolution ultrasound. Aortic intima-media thickness (aIMT) was assessed during follow-up only.
Several vascular risk factors like elevated blood pressure (4.7% > 95th percentile), overweight (9.2% > 95th percentile) and smoking (29.7%) were already prevalent at this age. Maximum cIMT progressed by 2.78 μm (95% CI, 0.39-5.17) per year. In multivariable linear regression analysis, sex, body weight, systolic blood pressure, LDL-cholesterol and physical activity were independent predictors of cIMT both at baseline and follow-up. In addition, alanine-aminotransferase, a laboratory surrogate of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, was independently associated with cIMT at follow-up and pack-years of smoking with aIMT.
Unfavourable lifestyle and vascular risk factors were prevalent in adolescents and several of them were associated with vessel wall thickness, even though effect sizes were modest and cIMT variability was limited. These data suggest adolescence as a prime age range for early vascular prevention.

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