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Los Angeles • Strokes are rising dramatically among young and middle-aged Americans while dropping in older people, a sign that the obesity epidemic may be starting to shift the age burden of the disease.
The numbers, reported Wednesday at an American Stroke Association conference, come from the first large nationwide study of stroke hospitalizations by age. Government researchers compared hospitalizations in 1994 and 1995 with ones in 2006 and 2007.
The sharpest increase 51 percent was among men 15 through 34. Strokes rose among women in this age group, too, but not as fast 17 percent.
"It's definitely alarming," said Ralph Sacco, American Heart Association president and a neurologist at the University of Miami. "We have worried for a while that the increased prevalence of obesity in children and young adults may take its toll in cardiovascular disease and stroke," and that appears to be happening, he said.
Stroke still takes its highest toll on older people. For those over 65, there were nearly 300 stroke cases among 10,000 hospitalizations in the more recent period studied. For males 15 to 34, there were about 15 stroke cases per 10,000, and for girls and women in that age group there were about 4 per 10,000.
Several small studies had recently suggested an ominous rise among the young and among middle-aged women.
Is diet soda causing strokes, heart attack?
It's far from definitive proof, but new research raises concern about diet soda, finding higher risks for stroke and heart attack among people who drink it every day versus those who drink no soda at all. The beverage findings should be "a wake-up call to pay attention to diet sodas," said Steven Greenberg. Greenberg is a Harvard Medical School neurologist and vice chairman of the International Stroke Conference in California, where the research was presented Wednesday.