Obese teenagers showing early sign of heart disease

Toronto: In what could be viewed as the early indicator of heart diseases, Canadian scientists have found the blood vessels of obese children as young as 13 years have stiffness normally seen in ageing adults.

The British Columbia Children`s Hospital study involving 63 obese children with an average age of 13 found the signs of "stiffening" in the aorta -- the largest artery in the human body -- which is liked with cardiovascular diseases and early death.

"We were surprised to find that these obese children already have stiff blood vessels," said Dr Kevin Harris, one of the researchers, who presented their study at the Canadian
Cardiovascular Congress.

"Aortic stiffness is an early indicator of cardiovascular disease in obese children," Dr Harris told the Congress hosted by the Canadian Cardiovascular Society and the Heart&Stroke Foundation.

Aorta, according to the scientists, 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 ageing and is a strong predictor of future cardiac events and mortality in adults.

For their study, Dr Harris and colleagues evaluated the obese children, who were about 25kg more than normal, and compared them with 55 normal weight children.

Besides, measuring their blood pressure, lipid levels and body mass index, the researchers also used ultrasound to measure how fast the blood flows through their aorta.

Their blood lipid levels-- total, HDL and LDL cholesterol-- were found to be normal. But, ultrasound of their heart showed that the `Pulse Wave Velocity` and other measures of arterial health were already abnormal in the obese children.

This suggests that cardiovascular problems which could threaten or even shorten life could be developing "silently" during childhood, the scientists said.

Dr Harris said their findings are highly significant because the elastic qualities of their aorta were impaired even though other measures of heart health such as blood lipid
levels and blood pressure were not dramatically different.

To see actual changes to the performance of the heart and blood vessels in obese children is extremely alarming, said Dr Beth Abramson, spokesperson of the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

She said: "We know there is an association between unhealthy lifestyles and heart disease. Our kids are at risk.

"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."

The rate of childhood obesity has tripled over the last 25 years and it continues to increase, warns Dr Abramson. She noted that the health risks to overweight and obese
children include heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Dr Harris said the next step should be to determine whether these changes are reversible with treatment such as improved diet and exercise.