Happy-go-lucky millennials who are mostly athletic or healthy might find themselves suffering from cardiovascular disease when they're in their 50s or 60s, based on slightly elevated cholesterol levels during their younger years.

Cardiovascular disease, particularly heart disease, is the No. 1 cause of death among Hispanics in America. Numerous risk factors contribute to this, including predisposition, tobacco use, unhealthy diets, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, high blood pressure, air pollution, education status, economic status, sedentary lifestyles and healthcare barriers. In addition to that, future heart health challenges can be attributed to inadequate information shared with the Latino community regarding heart health, particularly as it directly correlates to the importance of eating well and staying active.

Dr. Myriam Torres, a clinical assistant professor and director for the Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies in the Arnold School of Public Health, elaborated upon these issues during an exclusive interview with Latin Post.

"Latinos have higher prevalence of 'the bad cholesterol,' which is called LDL," Torres said. "And when you look at the CDC facts, Mexican American men have higher proportions of LDL, when compared to other men. The women, however, even though it's a little bit higher, it is still very close to non-Hispanics white, but it's higher than non-Hispanic black women."

"There is a study that started a few years ago, following Latinos in different areas of the United States, and they found that Cubans have higher levels of LDL, and Dominicans are better off ... best among Latinos present in the United States," she said.

The Duke Clinical Research Institute stated in recent findings that slightly elevated cholesterol levels in healthy young adults can have long-term impacts on their health. Additionally, each decade of heightened cholesterol increases the likelihood of heart disease by 39 percent. This is similar to the long-term impact of smoking, and the swelling effects of elevated cholesterol can result in cumulative damage.  

Circulation, the American Heart Association journal, published Duke's clinical findings. Within the research, lead author Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, M.D., Ph.D stated, "The number of years with elevated cholesterol, or 'lipid years,' can affect you in a similar way to the number of 'pack years' you have had as a smoker. It shows that what we're doing to our blood vessels in our 20s, 30s and 40s is laying the foundation for disease that will present itself later in our lives. If we wait until our 50s or 60s to think about cardiovascular disease prevention, the cat's already out of the bag."

For accurate conclusions, data was collected over a long period of time to truly analyze the long-term effects of cholesterol on the lives of young adults. This is a topic that hasn't gained very much attention in recent years, although it should be of great importance to Latinos since heart disease has a fierce hold on the Latino community.

According to Torres, there are many factors that contribute to good and bad cholesterol in particular groups of Latinos, including obesity, body mass index and a lack of physical activity. As obesity has increased across the United States, and the world, it is uniquely affecting the Latino community.

"While many have healthy habits, there are numerous factors contributing to high cholesterol and obesity, such as the lack of physical activity -- particularly, we now drive. Here, in North Carolina, the transportation isn't very good. But, in our countries, we have to walk to get to the public transportation," Torres explained. "And when you don't have the benefit of that walk, you become unhealthy. In addition to that, many have modified their diet, which, in many cases, worsens when you come to the United States because of accessibility and all of that."

Martha L. Daviglus, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiovascular epidemiologist at Northwestern University and University of Illinois and an American Heart Association volunteer, has made mention that Hispanics are more likely to delay care, drop out of treatment when symptoms disappear and avoid visits to the doctor. Furthermore, many cite the hurdles faced when attempting to access healthcare, including language barriers, lack of transportation and lack of health insurance.

Healthy meals can also be difficult to manage for many Latino families. Both parents likely work, and they often work multiple jobs; they do not always have time to prepare nutritious meals. Often, these families discover that $5 could purchase numerous hamburgers, while fruits and vegetables can be far more expensive and take more time to prepare. After an exhaustive work day, when many don't have time to cook for their families, they aren't likely to exercise.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported that 65 percent of Mexican-American men and 74 percent of Mexican-American women did not participate in leisure-time physical activity. This contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, and the growing diabetes rate -- particularly if cholesterol is left unchecked during lipid years.

It's never too early to start thinking about cardiovascular health. A commitment to a healthy heart isn't a promise to be made lightly. While this doesn't mean that one has to totally abandon all enjoyable food, it does mean that saying no from time-to-time, and turning off Netflix and going running or walking instead . Also, seeking out culturally tailored healthcare and sharing information about culturally-intelligent providers can present better health outcomes for others in the Latino community.

Dr. Torres also added that healthcare providers should reiterate the complications of obesity and the benefits of physical activity. And, they should remind patients that diets are very important. Mild or even moderate elevations in cholesterol could mean that healthy adults from age 35 to 55 will struggle with heart disease or similar afflictions later in life. For that reason, young people must control cholesterol through diet and exercise; they must make an effort to seek out regular checkups; and they should find out if they qualify to receive statins, drugs that lower cholesterol.