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Obese kids’ heart disease, stroke risk may be higher, study says

By Raymond Cox

Extension News

Overweight children have up to three times higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease when they reach adulthood, a new report says.

As a result, obesity and severe obesity have joined a list of conditions that increase the risk for premature heart disease in children, according to a new statement published Monday in Circulation.

“We wanted to summarize the existing literature for the pediatric cardiology practitioner, to provide some guidance around clinical practice to those taking care of youth at increased risk for future cardiovascular disease,” Sarah D. de Ferranti, Director of Preventive Cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital and statement author, told UPI. The statement lays out guidelines to treat and manage heart disease risk in children with types 1 and 2 diabetes, familial high cholesterol and congenital heart disease. The statement also argues to fight back the risk of developing atherosclerosis, a condition that narrows the arteries and can lead to heart disease and stroke.

“Childhood obesity is multifactorial in its origin — just like adults, kids don’t move enough and they consume too many calories to keep the energy balanced in favor of a normal weight for height,” de Ferranti said. “In the case of children, parents, schools and other parts of society can and should positively influence the environment. Children need an environment that contributes to more physical activity and less calories. It’s very challenging for all involved and requires a lot of small changes to help families make progress on a very difficult problem.”

The new statement is a revision from a 2006 statement devised by experts to address very premature cardiovascular disease in children. The new statement also elevated type 2 diabetes as a high-risk condition due to its links to high blood pressure and obesity, the researchers say. They expanded the risk of heart disease connected with cancer treatments.

Certain cancer drugs, along with radiation treatment, can lead to heart failure, according to one study. While obesity isn’t likely to cause a heart attack in adolescents, it does increase their risk of having one when they become young adults.

In fact, research shows that adults are having heart attacks at younger ages than in the past. In one recent study, about 30 percent of the heart attack victims were between ages 35 and 54. The number of obese children in the U.S. has tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Now, one in 5 kids is considered obese. To combat obesity, the researchers recommend that kids eat fewer calories, exercise more and, in severe cases, get bariatric surgery. “I hope clinicians taking care of children and adolescents will find our statement useful as they care for their patients,” de Ferranti said.

Raymond Cox is the county extension agent for 4-H/youth development. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.