Study: Obese Children, Teens Have the Arteries of 45-Year-Olds

November 11, 2008

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By Sally Chew

TUESDAY, Nov. 11, 2008 (Health.com) — Obese children have as much plaque in their neck arteries as middle-aged adults, according to a study presented this week at the American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans.

This precocious buildup of fatty deposits may give kids a looming risk of heart disease and other health problems that are beyond their years too.

“My premonition is that we will see more premature angina and strokes and such,” says study author Geetha Raghuveer, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine.

In the study, Dr. Raghuveer and colleagues used ultrasound to measure the plaque in the carotid arteries of 70 obese children and teens with an average age of 13. (The study participants were 6 to 19 years of age.) The researchers measured the carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) in the neck and found that the average CIMT was 0.45 millimeters, which is typical of adults in their mid-40s.

The researchers were not surprised that the children had narrowing of their arteries. “We have known that the carotid artery’s inner lining is thickened in children with some combination of the traditional risk factors: high cholesterol, obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, diabetes, even exposure to tobacco smoking,” says Dr. Raghuveer.

But finding 30 years’ worth of extra fatty buildup exposes the seriousness of the problem, she says. Clogged arteries can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.

“Saying that a child has the arteries of a 45-year-old brings it home, and so I think it’s a really nice way to catch people’s eye,” agrees Sarah De Ferranti, MD, director of the Preventative Cardiology Clinic at Children’s Hospital Boston.

She applauds the idea of counting children’s vascular age, or the state or their arteries, if it helps spur action against the ongoing epidemic of childhood obesity. “I think people are worried, but it’s worried-sitting-on-the-couch versus worried-getting-up-and-doing-something.”

Next: What should parents do?


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