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Childhood obesity

Obese children face increased risk of heart disease and stroke

Obese children had significantly higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance were significantly higher in obese children

Obese children could be facing a 30-40% higher risk of future stroke and heart disease than their normal weight counterparts, according to a study published in online in the bmj.com.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have reported that obese children and adolescents have several risk factors for heart disease including raised blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and a thickening of the heart muscle, compared with normal weight children.

“Weight, and especially obesity, has a significant effect on the risk parameters for cardiovascular disease that are present in children from age five years,” said the authors. “This effect could give them a head start on their normal and even overweight classmates for future cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke.”

Being overweight in adulthood is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The effect of obesity on children is less well understood, but a growing body of evidence suggests a similar association.

The study was created tom examine the scale of the association between weight and risk factors for heart disease in children. The investigators analysed the results of 63 studies involving 49,220 healthy children aged between five and 15 years old. Only studies conducted after 1990 in highly developed countries and published between 2000 and 2011 were included.

The studies measured weight and one or more known cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

Overweight was defined as BMI 25-30 and obesity was defined as BMI>30. Differences in study quality were taken into account to identify and minimise bias.

Outcomes

The study found that obese children had significantly higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, overweight children also had raised blood pressure, but to a lesser degree than obese children.

Fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance were significantly higher in obese children, but not in overweight children.

Obese children also had a significant increase in left ventricular mass, compared with normal weight children, even after adjusting for height.

The authors say that the exact ages at which changes in a child's risk factors begin need to be established to help build a more accurate picture of the cardiovascular risk these young people are likely to face as adults.

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