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Heart Disease, Diabetes Risks Increase With Greater Degrees of Obesity

June 2, 2004 -- Health risks usually associated with middle-age spread can be seen in obese children as young as age 4, and new research suggests these problems occur with more frequency and severity depending on the degree of obesityobesity.

According to a study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, components associated with metabolic syndromemetabolic syndrome -- a cluster of risk factors that raise heart diseaseheart disease and diabetesdiabetes risks -- steadily increase with the more weight obese kids carry.

What this means is that obese children, some not yet attending elementary school, are already displaying warning signs of chronic diseases that in past generations took years to develop.

Metabolic syndrome affects nearly one in four American adults, greatly raising their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Generally, adults with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following traits:

More Weight Means More Problems

In this study, researchers found that about 40%-50% of children who were moderately to severely obese had metabolic syndrome.

In practical terms, children with a body mass index, or BMI, (a gauge of body fat determined by height and weight) of greater than 95% of children their age and sex are considered overweight or obese.

"We know that obesity opens the door for many complications, even in children, but what is surprising is that the more obese a child becomes, the greater the cluster of problems these children face," says senior researcher Sonia Caprio, MD, of Yale University School of Medicine.

"The message of this finding is that while it's very hard for obese children to lose weight, it's essential that they don't gain any more weight," she tells WebMD.

Health Risks Before Elementary School

Caprio and her colleagues tracked 20 normal-weight children, 31 overweight children, and 439 obese children between the ages of 4 and 20.

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