Findings from a new review of studies suggest that studies may have underestimated the effect of obesity during childhood and adolescence on later health. The analysis, one of the largest ever to address the issue, included close to 50,000 children.
Compared to children and teens at a healthy weight, those who were obese were more likely to have risk factors for heart disease and diabetes including high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
Researcher Claire Friedemann, a doctoral candidate in health sciences at the University of Oxford in the U.K., stated that, "Parents and health policymakers need to understand that obesity in childhood affects much more than appearance." "Obesity affects a child’s health and puts them on a path for developing many health issues as they get older."
The analysis included 63 studies published between 2000 and 2011 that included a total of 49,220 healthy children between the ages of 5 and 15. All measured the children’s weight as well as one or more of the known risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
Compared to children and teens whose weight was normal, obese children and teens had significantly higher blood pressure. Obesity also led to higher levels of cholesterol and fat in the bloodstream, as measured by total cholesterol and triglycerides.
Levels of insulin and insulin resistance — both indicators of high risk for diabetes — were also much higher in obese children. Obese children and teens were also more likely than their peers to have a thickening of the heart muscle, which is a risk for heart disease in adults.
This evidence of an impact on the heart as early as childhood is particularly worrisome, researchers Lee Hudson and Russell M. Viner, of London’s Institute of Child Health, write in an editorial. "The current review provides a stark illustration of the probable threat that childhood obesity poses."
The obesity rate among children in the U.S. has tripled since 1980. According to the CDC, close to 17% of children and teens (or 12.5 million) in this country are obese.
The study and editorial appear this week in the journal BMJ, Sept, 25, 2012