FRIDAY, Feb. 6, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A study that found children living in the "stroke belt" of the United States face an increased risk of stroke may challenge a current theory on why adult stroke deaths are significantly higher in those southeastern states than in the rest of the country.
The findings were presented Feb. 6 at the American Stroke Association's annual meeting in San Diego.
The increased risk in the stroke belt -- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia -- has been linked to atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fat-containing deposits inside arteries.
It's been suggested that adults living in these states have more risk factors for atherosclerosis -- high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and high triglycerides in the blood -- which are related to lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise.
In this new study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, examined whether there was a stroke belt for children. Overall, stroke is rare in children.
"By studying children, a group whose stroke rates are not affected by atherosclerosis risk factors, we can address the question of whether these risk factors are enough to explain the stroke belt," researcher Dr. Heather J. Fullerton, a clinical instructor of neurology and pediatrics, says in a prepared statement.
She and her colleagues analyzed death certificates for the period 1979-1998. They found that people under age 20 in stroke belt states had a 21 percent greater risk of death from stroke compared with people the same age in other states.
Over that same period, the risk of death from stroke among people over age 25 was 20 percent higher in stroke belt states than in other states.
"This means that we should look at stroke risk factors that are applicable to both children and adults when attempting to explain the stroke belt," Fullerton says.
"We might look predominately toward environmental or cultural factors, such as differences in water or soil, diet, socioeconomic status and genetics," she says.
Here's where you can learn more about stroke.