Obese children are between 30 and 40 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease and strokes in the future than normal-weight children, according to a large-scale new study.
It is widely known that being overweight or obese as an adult increases the risk of heart disease, strokes and other health issues, but the effects on children are less apparent.
Researchers at the University of Oxford examined data from 63 research papers published between 2000 and 2011, which studied almost 50,000 children in highly developed countries.
Writing on bmj.com, they found that children who were obese had much higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels on average than normal weight children, as well as an increased risk of diabetes. In addition, obese children were more likely to have a thicker lower left side of the heart.
The researchers believe obese children's hearts gradually become enlarged due to the strain of having to pump blood through the partly blocked blood vessels.
The researchers estimated that if all these risk factors continued into adulthood, obese children would be 30 per cent to 40 per cent more likely to have future strokes and heart disease than normal weight children.
The authors conclude: "Weight, and especially obesity, has a significant effect on the risk parameters for cardiovascular disease that are present in children from age five years.
“This effect could give them a head start on their normal and even overweight classmates for future cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke."
With roughly 1 in 7 children in the UK now obese, the study has prompted researchers at University College London’s Institute of Child Health to urge GPs to measure children’s body mass index to help curb the obesity epidemic.
Since parents often do not recognise obesity in their children, the researchers believe primary care services should help families move towards tackling the problem.
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