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Child Obesity Risks May Be Greater Than Thought

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 25, 2012 -- Children who are obese may have an even higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other weight-related diseases later in life than has been thought.

Findings from a new review of studies suggest that these studies may have underestimated the effect of obesity during childhood and adolescence on later health.

The analysis, one of the largest ever to address the issue, included close to 50,000 children.

Compared to children and teens at a healthy weight, those who were obese were more likely to have risk factors for heart disease and diabetes including high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

“Parents and health policymakers need to understand that obesity in childhood affects much more than appearance,” says researcher Claire Friedemann, a doctoral candidate in health sciences at the University of Oxford in the U.K.

“Obesity affects a child’s health and puts them on a path for developing many health issues as they get older.”

Obese Kids at Risk Later in Life

The analysis included 63 studies published between 2000 and 2011 that included a total of 49,220 healthy children between the ages of 5 and 15.

All measured the children’s weight as well as one or more of the known risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Compared to children and teens whose weight was normal, obese children and teens had significantly higher blood pressure.

Obesity also led to higher levels of cholesterol and fat in the bloodstream, as measured by total cholesterol and triglycerides.

Levels of insulin and insulin resistance -- both indicators of high risk for diabetes -- were also much higher in obese children.

Early Signs of Heart Disease

Obese children and teens were also more likely than their peers to have a thickening of the heart muscle, which is a risk for heart disease in adults.

This evidence of an impact on the heart as early as childhood is particularly worrisome, researchers Lee Hudson and Russell M. Viner, of London’s Institute of Child Health, write in an editorial.

The study and editorial appear this week in the journal BMJ.

“The current review provides a stark illustration of the probable threat that childhood obesity poses,” they write.

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