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Heart Warning Signs in Obese 3-Year-Olds

Study Shows Young Obese Children Have High Levels of C-Reactive Protein

Impact of Early Inflammation Unclear

The implications of this association with regard to heart attack and stroke risk are less clear.

Although childhood obesity is a known risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes early in life, it is not yet known if the same is true for heart disease.

"We really can't say what the extra years of inflammation portend for these children," Perrin says. "It is alarming, because of what we know about the relationship in adults. But I am cautious about over-interpreting the findings, because we simply don't know the implications for young children."

Pediatrician Stephen Daniels, MD, of Children's Hospital Denver agrees that there is cause for concern.

Daniels, who is a spokesman for the American Heart Association, did not take part in the study.

"We really don't know the full impact of the obesity epidemic in children," he says. "But it is hard to imagine that [systemic] inflammation from a very early age would be a good thing."

And there are indications that, just as with type 2 diabetes, the rise in obesity is leading to earlier heart disease.

Just last week, researchers from the University of Cincinnati reported that more young- and middle-aged adults are having strokes, at the same time that the stroke rate is dropping among the elderly.

In 2005, 7.3% of strokes occurred in people younger than age 45, compared to 4.5% in 1993. The average age of a stroke patient also dropped during this time, from age 71 to 68.

The rise in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes among younger adults is widely believed to be the cause of this demographic shift.

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