A study has revealed that blood vessels of obese children have stiffness normally seen in much older adults with cardiovascular disease.
The mean age of the children in Dr. Kevin Harris's study was 13 years.
"Aortic stiffness is an early indicator of cardiovascular disease in obese children," said Harris from B.C. Children's Hospital.
He said it is as if the aging process has been accelerated in their aorta.
The aorta is the largest artery in the human body. It carries and distributes oxygen-rich blood to all the other arteries and normally acts as a buffer to the pumping action of the heart. Increased stiffness of the aorta is typically associated with aging and is a strong predictor of future cardiac events and mortality in adults.
"The normal aorta has elastic qualities that buffer the flow of blood. When that elasticity is lost, aortic stiffness results - a sign of developing cardiovascular disease," Harris said.
The findings are highly significant because the elastic qualities of the children's aorta were impaired even though other measures of heart health such as blood lipid levels and blood pressure were not dramatically different.
"We know there is an association between unhealthy lifestyles and heart disease. Our kids are at risk," said Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Beth Abramson.
"Poor nutrition and inactivity are threatening their health and well-being. We must rethink the lifestyle standards we have accepted as a society to protect the future health of our kids," she said.
Harris said the next step should be to determine whether these changes are reversible with treatment such as improved diet and exercise.