Obese Children May Be at Increased Risk for Heart Disease

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Medical Conditions, In The News, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens


Your cheerfully-chubby child may already be developing a risk for heart disease, according to an article published today in the online version of Pediatrics.

Being overweight as a child may be more dangerous than many people realize.

"We see on the outside a cute, chubby kid without realizing what's going on inside their body," the study's lead author, Asheley Cockrell Skinner, tells ParentDish.

Skinner and her colleagues found that obese children as young as age 3 have inflammation markers in their blood that, in adults, are considered early warning signs for heart disease.The findings are troubling for parents, because it can be difficult to know when a child is overweight, particularly in younger and shorter children where the margin between a healthy and an unhealthy weight may be as little as a few pounds. For example, a child who is 39 inches and about 3-and-a-half years old would be healthy at 34 pounds and very obese at 43 pounds.

The researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which looked at more than 16,000 children between the ages of 1 and 17 from 1999 to 2006. The study's authors grouped the children into four categories according to their Body Mass Index: healthy weight, overweight, obese and very obese. Nearly 70 percent of the children surveyed were healthy weight, 15 percent were overweight, 11 percent were obese and 3.5 percent were very obese, according to Pediatrics.

More than 40 percent of the very obese children between the ages of 3 and 5 had elevated levels of the inflammation marker, compared to just 17 percent of the healthy weight children. The contrast was even more striking among teenagers, where 83 percent of the very obese children between the ages of 15 and 17 had elevated levels, compared to 18 percent of those at a healthy weight. In older children, elevated levels also were found in overweight children, not just those who were obese, Skinner tells ParentDish.

"As parents, the most important thing is to recognize that obesity is something you need to think about throughout your child's life," Skinner says. "It appears to be changing their bodies even when they're very young. All of the things we know to do about obesity, such as activity and a healthy diet, need to be done all their lives."

Related: Ricki Lake's Fight Against Childhood Obesity

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.