Even without other cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, a new study has found that childhood obesity increases the risk of heart disease and stroke in kids as young as 7 years.
Principal investigator and senior author Dr. Nelly Mauras, Chief of Pediatric Endocrinology at Nemours Children's Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, said that the study showed that the unhealthy consequences of excess body fat start very early.
The study demonstrated that obesity alone is linked to certain abnormalities in the blood that can predispose individuals to developing cardiovascular disease early in adulthood.
"Our study finding suggests that we need more aggressive interventions for weight control in obese children, even those who do not have the co-morbidities of the metabolic syndrome," said Mauras.
The metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that raise the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes and is increasingly being diagnosed in children, as obesity becomes a greater problem.
Metabolic syndrome is usually diagnosed by increased waist circumference (abdominal fat) or low HDL ("good") cholesterol or high triglycerides (fats in the blood), high blood pressure and high blood glucose (blood sugar).
The researchers wanted to know whether simple obesity could raise cardiovascular disease risk before the metabolic syndrome develops, and thus screened over 300 individuals ages 7 to 18 years.
The study included just those without features of the metabolic syndrome.
All study participants underwent blood testing for known markers for predicting the development of cardiovascular disease, which included elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, and abnormally high fibrinogen, a clotting factor, among others.
It was found that obese children had a 10 fold higher CRP and significantly higher fibrinogen concentrations, compared with age- and sex-matched lean children.
Such abnormalities occurred in obese children as young as 7-year-olds, long before the onset of puberty.
Mauras said that the results were striking, as the children were entirely healthy otherwise.
"Doctors often do not treat obesity in children now unless they have other features of the metabolic syndrome. This practice should be reconsidered.
Further studies by the growup will offer further insight into the effects of therapeutic interventions in these children," she said.
The results were presented at The Endocrine Society's 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.