As early as 7 years of age, being obese may raise a child’s risk of future heart disease and stroke, even in the absence of other cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, according to a new study.
The study indicates that the unhealthy consequences of excess body fat start very early. It also suggests that weight control needs to be strictly enforced in even those obese children who don’t show symptoms of metabolic syndrome.
The metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors — such as increased abdominal fat, low HDL (or ‘good’ cholesterol) and high blood sugar — that raise the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It is being increasingly diagnosed in children.
The researchers wanted to know if obesity could raise cardiovascular disease risk prior to the onset of the metabolic syndrome. They screened more than 300 individuals ages 7 to 18 years and included only those without features of the metabolic syndrome. The 202 participants in the study included 115 obese children and 87 lean children.
All participants underwent blood testing for known markers for predicting the development of cardiovascular disease. These included elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, and abnormally high fibrinogen, a clotting factor, among others. Obese children had a 10 fold higher CRP and significantly higher fibrinogen concentrations, compared with age- and sex-matched lean children. These abnormalities occurred in obese children as young as age 7.
Surprisingly, the children were completely healthy otherwise. Researchers say these findings suggest that more aggressive measures need to be taken to limit calories and increase activity in “healthy” overweight children, even before the onset of puberty.
Yet another warning
A new study shows that obesity also increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer, like liver cancer. Researchers have found that liver cancer is fostered by the chronic inflammatory state that goes with obesity, and two well known inflammatory factors in particular. The findings suggest that anti-inflammatory drugs for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease may also reduce the risk of cancer in those at high risk due to obesity.
The studies reported earlier showed that obese people have about a 1.5-fold increase in their risk of cancer overall. When it comes to liver cancer, the study showed obese people have a 4.5-fold greater risk.
In the new study, the researchers gave two-week-old mice a chemical carcinogen called DEN and then divided them into two groups — one fed a normal, relatively low-fat food and the other fed on high-fat chow. The findings showed that mice on the high fat diet developed more liver cancer.