Imaging tests of obese children found that some as young as 8 years old showed signs of heart disease, according to new research. The study, presented Nov. 10 at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2015 in Orlando, found damage to the heart in obese kids that could have life-threatening consequences in later life.
“It is both surprising and alarming to us to that even the youngest children in our study who were 8 years old had evidence of heart disease,” lead author Linyuan Jing, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow with Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., told HealthDay. “Ultimately, we hope that the effects we see in the hearts of these children are reversible. However, it is possible that there could be permanent damage,” she added.
For the study, Jing and her colleagues conducted MRI scans of 40 children between 8 and 16 years of age. Half of the kids were obese and half were of normal weight. Obesity was determined by whether a child’s body mass index (BMI) – a calculation derived from a child’s weight and height – exceeded the 95th percentile.
Findings showed that obesity was linked to 27 percent more muscle mass in the left ventricle of the heart and 12 percent thicker heart muscles – both signs of heart disease. Among the obese kids, 40 percent were considered high-risk because problems with the thickened muscle in the heart were associated with impaired pumping ability.
The researchers reported that not all the obese children showed signs of heart disease. And although some of the obese kids were struggling with complications associated with excess weight, including asthma, high blood pressure and depression, none of the children exhibited overt warning signs of heart disease, such as fatigue, dizziness or shortness of breath.
However, Jing noted that the study excluded children with diabetes and those who were too large to fit inside the MRI scanning machine. “This means the actual burden of heart disease in obese children may have been underestimated in our study because the largest kids who may have been the most severely affected could not be enrolled,” Jing said in an AHA news release.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) obesity among 6- to 12-year-olds in the U.S. has doubled over the last 30 years and quadrupled among teens. As of 2012, one in three children ages 2 to 19 is either overweight or clinically obese and at risk for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
“Understanding the long-term ramifications will be critical as we deal with the impact of the pediatric obesity epidemic,” Jing said while acknowledging the need for larger studies to examine the effects of childhood obesity on the heart in later life.