Weight Affects Kids' Heart Size as Adults

Teaching Healthy Weight-Control Habits at a Young Age May Help Prevent Enlarged Heart Later in Life

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 22, 2004 -- Gaining weight in childhood can have long-term consequences for the heart, according to a new study.

Adiposity (fatness) that starts in childhood is tied to enlarged hearts in young adults, say the researchers, who included Xiangrong Li, MD, MSPH, and colleagues from Tulane University in New Orleans.

Xiangrong's team studied 467 young adults aged 20 to 38. As members of the Bogalusa Heart Study in Bogalusa, La., participants had been examined an average of six times since childhood, with an average follow-up period of about 21 years.

Data included participants' body mass index (BMI), which indicates total body fat, and images of their hearts.

The size of their hearts' chambers rose along with BMI, starting in childhood.

"Adiposity beginning in childhood is a consistent predictor of left ventricular mass (lower heart chambers) in young adults," write the researchers in the Nov. 23 issue of the journal Circulation.

"Those who had higher levels of childhood adiposity had larger cardiac size 21 years later, and the cumulative burden of adiposity since childhood increased the risk of cardiac enlargement."

In the medical world, having a big heart -- literally -- is not a great trait. Enlarged hearts are tied to cardiovascular risks.

Obesity may force the heart to grow bigger, and high blood pressure that accompanies obesity can also contribute to the heart's enlargement.

In the study, heart size in young adulthood correlated significantly with BMI and blood pressure measured in childhood, adulthood, or as a cumulative burden since childhood, write the authors.

Since adding extra pounds starting in childhood can burden mature hearts, kids need to learn early to eat right, exercise, and keep their weight in check, say the scientists.

"Heart disease often begins in childhood," says researcher Gerald Berenson, MD, in a news release.

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SOURCES: Xiangrong, L. Circulation, Nov. 23, 2004. News release, American Heart Association. WebMD Health Tools: "Body Mass Index Calculator."
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