Childhood Obesity Increases the Risk of Heart Disease

by Dr Sam Girgis on September 26, 2012

Obesity in adulthood is known to increase the risk of heart disease by contributing to the development of several metabolic disorders that are risk factors.  These obesity related cardiovascular disease risk factors include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal lipid profiles, and progressive atherosclerosis.  Along with the obesity epidemic, there have also been parallel epidemics in type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.  In addition to adults, children have also developed weight problems such as overweight and obesity.  Along with the childhood obesity epidemic, we have begun to identify obesity related disorders that are normally only seen in adults now occur in children as well.

Researchers, led by Claire Friedemann from Oxford University, have found that childhood obesity contributed to heart disease risk factors such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and abnormal lipids and can increase left ventricular mass.  The results of their study were published online in the British Medical Journal.  The investigators conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis which included 63 studies of 49,220 children aged 5 to 15 years of age.  It was found that compared to normal weight children, systolic blood pressure was higher by 4.54 mm Hg in overweight children and was higher by 7.49 mm Hg in obese children.  Total cholesterol and triglycerides were higher in obese children compared to normal weight children.  In addition, fasting insulin and insulin resistance were significantly higher in obese study participants compared to normal weight study participants.

The authors wrote, “The current study has shown that overweight and obese children have raised risk parameters for cardiovascular disease compared with normal weight children… We found that overweight and obesity have a significant effect on blood pressure, lipids, insulin levels and resistance, and left ventricular mass. This effect on risk parameters for cardiovascular disease is greatest in obese children and the implications for their future health may be greater than has been previously suggested”.

In an accompanying editorial it was commented that, “The long term outcomes for the current generation’s obese children and adolescents remain to be seen. However, the current study will help build a more accurate picture of the cardiometabolic risk that these young people are likely to face… Friedemann and colleagues’ data, and findings from large clinical samples, challenge us to rethink our approaches to identifying cardiometabolic abnormalities in obese children”.

This study provides evidence that obesity in childhood confers the same cardiovascular risks onto children that it does in adults.  The concern is that in children, these cardiovascular disease risk factors will have a longer period of time to influence health and may cause the adult health status of obese children to be adversely impacted.  The findings in this study give us more evidence that childhood obesity negatively impacts health, and that cardiovascular disease can be increased as a result.  We should use this information to help fuel the fight against childhood obesity, and hopefully reverse this trend in our children.



Claire Friedemann et al. “Cardiovascular disease risk in healthy children and its association with body mass index: systematic review and meta-analysisBMJ published online September 25, 2012 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e4759

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