Childhood Obesity Increases Risk of Heart Disease

Childhood obesity, even if it is not associated with diabetes and other complications, causes inflammation and clotting problems that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a presentation Thursday at The Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

"Our study suggests that we need far more aggressive interventions for weight control in obese children," even in those who do not have complications from their obesity, lead researcher Dr. Nelly Mauras, from Nemours Children's Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida, told the conference.

The study involved 115 obese and 87 lean children ages 7 to 18 years, all of whom had normal blood levels of sugar and cholesterol and normal blood pressure. Blood levels of a compound called high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) were measured to assess levels of inflammation in the body, while levels of a chemical called fibrinogen were measured to assess the body's propensity to form clots.

The authors found that CRP levels were much higher in obese children than in normal-weight children.

The results were "striking," Mauras said. "CRP was 8 times higher in the pubertal obese youngsters and 12 times higher in the prepubertal obese children as compared to the lean children and these are patients that have so-called simple obesity — they didn't have anything else that we could find that was significantly wrong with them."

Fibrinogen levels were also significantly higher in obese children relative to lean children, regardless of the stage of puberty. Both CRP and fibrinogen levels were directly related to the child's waist circumference and percent fat mass.

"Our study demonstrates that the unhealthy consequences of excess body fat start early in childhood, even before the onset of puberty," Mauras said. "Obesity alone, our study shows, is linked to certain abnormalities in the blood that can predispose individuals to be developing cardiovascular disease early in adulthood."

Summing up, she noted that physicians "often do not treat obesity in children now unless they have (complications from the obesity). This practice should be reconsidered."