Even in toddlers, excess weight sets the stage for heart ills

By Nicholas Bakalar

Overweight and obese children may show signs of cardiovascular disease risk even before age 11, Australian researchers report.

For a study published in Pediatrics, scientists measured body mass index in 1,811 children every two years between ages 2 and 11 and calculated their metabolic syndrome risk scores. For this study, the score calculated risk for cardiovascular disease based on the presence of four factors: high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels (insulin resistance), high triglyceride levels and low levels of HDL (“good cholesterol”).

They found that BMI was relatively stable over time in most children. Higher BMI was associated with higher metabolic risk scores, and the association became stronger with age. Higher BMI in 2- and 3-year-olds predicted higher metabolic risk scores at age 11 to 12.

By age 6 to 7, obesity was also associated with thickened arterial walls and greater arterial stiffness, which can be precursors of vascular disease.

“Children who are obese in childhood track into obese adolescents and adults,” said the lead author, Kate Lycett, a child health researcher at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. “As a parent, it’s really difficult, but turning it around early in life would prevent later cardiovascular disease.

“We’ve made very successful efforts to control heart disease,” she continued, “but when you have children who are obese throughout life, we’re really at risk that a lot of that good work can be undone.”

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