In yet another warning signal of the toll that childhood obesity will take on health and health care budgets, a small study has shown that overweight kids as young as 10 years old have the thickened arteries of 45-year-olds. Researchers say the findings raise the possibility that these kids could develop serious heart disease in their 20s or 30s.
"There's a saying that 'you're as old as your arteries,' meaning that the state of your arteries is more important than your actual age in the evolution of heart disease and stroke," said [lead researcher] Dr Geetha Raghuveer [Telegraph].
The findings, while preliminary, should serve as a serious alarm bell in the United States, where about one-third of children are overweight and almost one-fifth are obese.
Many parents think that "baby fat" will melt away as kids get older. But research increasingly shows that fat kids become fat adults, with higher risks for many health problems. "Obesity is not benign in children and adolescents," said Dr. Robert Eckel, a former heart association president [AP].
Researchers used an ultrasound to measure the thickness of the walls of the carotid arteries in the necks of 70 kids, age 10 to 16. All the volunteers had elevated cholesterol, and more than half were considered obese. They found that 52 of the participants had artery walls as thick as those of an average 45-year-old, indicating that fatty plaques have built up on the inside of the arteries. When such plaques break free, they become clots that can cause strokes and heart attacks. The study was presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association, and researchers say the results must be replicated in a larger study before they can be considered conclusive. While the results raise the alarming specter of heart disease becoming a pediatric condition,
Dr. Raghuveer said that for the children she studied, hope was not lost. “A lot of these kids’ arteries, even though they are in the early stages of atherosclerosis, are not hardened or calcified, not really advanced,” she said. “There may be an opportunity to implement lifestyle alterations, be it exercise, be it diet, or perhaps even medication. Perhaps it may be reversed” [The New York Times].
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