Heart disease is one of the major causes of ailments and early death in adults. But the damage of blood vessels that is responsible for the disease, in fact, starts at an early age.
A group of Sydney-based researchers are conducting a study to find out the risk factors for early blood vessel damage in kids and ways to protect them from the damage.
Dr Julian Ayer from the Heart Research Institute is leading that team and has been awarded a $55,000 Pfizer Australia Cardio Vascular Lipid (CVL) Research Grant in an investigation of the early life determinants of cardiovascular risk and disease.
Dr Ayer's study - conducted in conjunction with the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research - involves more than 500 eight-year-old children.
The study aims to determine what are the most important factors present in childhood that lead to changes in the structure and function of blood vessels.
In particular the research is looking at whether birth weight and rapid weight gain early in life are risk factors for later heart disease.
"This is important research because of the high and rising rates of childhood obesity in Australia", Dr Ayer said.
"We know that overweight and obese children have increased rates of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The effect of these factors in children as young as eight has not been looked at before."
The study is also investigating the effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, found most abundantly in fish oils, on the blood vessels of these children.
"Half the children had their diet supplemented with Omega - 3 Fatty Acids earlier in childhood, in a study looking at preventing asthma. We are now looking at whether this may have had a beneficial effect on the heart."
The Pfizer Australia CVL Research Grants were established in 1999 to support clinical research into cardiovascular disease or related therapeutic areas.
They are open to Australian medical graduates who have entered the field of research (or who have returned after an appropriate break) within the last five years.