A recent study has discovered that obese children as young as 3 years old are subject to elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that in adults is considered an early warning sign for possible future heart disease.
The study by University of North Carolina at Chapel also found elevated levels of two other inflammatory markers - the ratio of ferritin/transferrin saturation (F/T) and the absolute neutrophil count (ANC) - in obese children. Elevated F/T levels started at age 6 and elevated ANC levels were found starting at age 9.
"These findings were a surprise to us," said lead author Asheley Cockrell Skinner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UNC School of Medicine. "We're seeing a relationship between weight status and elevated inflammatory markers much earlier than we expected."
"Most adults understand that being overweight or obese isn't good for them," Skinner said. "But not as many people realize that it may be unhealthy for young children to be overweight."
It can be very difficult for parents to tell when their child is overweight, Skinner said.
"Especially with younger children and smaller children, because they're so short it only takes seven or eight pounds to change them from being a healthy weight to being overweight," she said.
The study was published online March 1 by the journal Pediatrics. Skinner and fellow Department of Pediatrics researchers Eliana Perrin, M.D., M.P.H., Michael Steiner, M.D. and Frederick enderson, M.D. arrived at these findings after analyzing data collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 to 2006.