Obese Kids Have Signs of Heart Disease

Researchers Find Blood Vessel Stiffness in Obese Children

Medically Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC on October 25, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 25, 2010 -- Stiffness in blood vessels can be seen even in young children who are obese, new research indicates. Blood vessel stiffness is usually associated with aging and is a strong predictor of future heart disease and death in adults.

Researchers evaluated 63 obese children with a mean age of 13, comparing them with 55 kids of normal weight.

Doctors measured the kids’ blood pressure and cholesterol levels and determined each child’s body mass index, a common ratio used to gauge weight.

The children also underwent ultrasound evaluations of the heart and “pulse wave velocity” analysis. Pulse wave velocity is a measure of how fast blood flows through blood vessels; it is one of the ways aortic stiffness can be determined.

Artery Stiffness in Childhood

“The normal aorta has elastic qualities that buffer the flow of blood,” says researcher Kevin Harris, MD, of B.C. Children’s Hospital, in a news release. “When the elasticity is lost, aortic stiffness results -- a sign of developing cardiovascular disease. Aortic stiffness is associated with cardiovascular events and early death.”

The study revealed that the elastic qualities of aortas in obese children are abnormal, even as other measures of heart health, such as blood fat levels and blood pressure readings, may not be dramatically different from normal-weight children. "We were surprised to find that these obese children already have stiff blood vessels," Harris says.

Beth Abramson, MD, of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, says the results of the study are alarming because blood vessels in children should not be showing signs of hardening.

“Our kids are at risk,” she says. “Poor nutrition and inactivity are threatening their health and well-being.”

Abramson says society and parents need to “rethink the lifestyle standards we have accepted as a society to protect the future health of our kids.”

Harris says more research is needed to determine whether the artery stiffening seen in obese children is reversible with treatment, such as improved diet and more exercise.

The study is being presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2010 in Montreal.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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News release, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2010, Montreal, Oct. 23-27, 2010.

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