Overweight pre-teens have the thick, stiff arteries of a 45-year-old smoker, according to new research that shows there's more going on with fat children than doctors may realize.
Researchers who tested 82 overweight and obese children found signs of "vascular dysfunction" in children as young as nine. Ultrasound pictures revealed their carotid arteries - the arteries that feed blood to the brain - were thickening, and that large blood vessels in their arms were not dilating properly.
The results "matched those of a 45-year-old adult who had been smoking for more than 10 years," lead researcher Dr. Kam Woo said in a statement issued by the American Heart Association. "Compared to normal-weight children, by adulthood they are three to five times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke before age 65," report canada.com
The children were divided into two groups. One group ate a diet low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. The second group ate the same diet and also did twice-weekly, 75-minute exercise sessions that included aerobics, resistance training, and agility exercises.
After six weeks, the children in both groups had significantly reduced their waist-to-hip ratio, lowered their total cholesterol, and improved their artery health. Diet and exercise resulted in a much greater improvement in artery health than diet alone, the study found.
Children who stuck with the exercise and diet program for a year continued to show improvement, inform healthday.com According to Professor Woo said: "This highlights the importance of regular exercise in preventing obesity-related vascular dysfunction in children.
"Adopting a healthy lifestyle in childhood is the most cost-effective and practical way to prevent heart disease in adults."
Belinda Linden, of the British Heart Foundation, said previous research had also shown that thickening of the arteries can start young.
She said: "The suggestion that this damage can be reversed with increased activity and better diets is encouraging, but it is easier to prevent obesity and its associated problems than reverse it.