Some obese teenagers already show signs of heart disease that are akin to those of middle-aged adults, according to a study presented this week at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2010.
The researchers found that the majority of obese children already had a stiff aorta, which is the body’s largest artery. A normal, flexible aorta helps buffer the pressure of blood flow from a pumping heart; stiff aortas could cause blood pressure to increase.
Because the rate of childhood obesity in developed countries has been increasing at an alarming rate, lead study author Kevin Harris, M.D., of British Columbia Children’s Hospital, decided to look more closely at obese children’s heart health. Obese adults are known to have increased risk of a variety of diseases, but the researchers aren’t sure how obesity affects children’s bodies and their disease risk.
For this study, Harris and his colleagues recruited 63 obese children and 55 children of normal weight from the hospital where Harris works. The average age of these children was almost 14 years old. Each subject received a physical exam that measured weight, height, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. These children also had ultrasounds that measured stiffness of the aorta, the main artery of the heart.
Harris notes that these stiff aortas could predispose obese children to heart disease in adulthood—but it’s also possible that this early sign of cardiovascular disease could be reversible with exercise and a healthy diet, something Harris plans to study in the future.
In the meantime, he says, these findings should give parents, pediatricians, and kids another reason to fight childhood obesity: “The fact that obese children already have evidence of cardiovascular disease underscores the importance of getting on obesity early and preventing it.”