(RxWiki News) Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And weight gain at a young age may also start the physical changes that can lead to heart disease later in life.
As childhood obesity becomes more common, researchers are studying how weight gain early in life affects development of the heart, as well as how the muscle pumps blood.
A new study from Germany found that childhood obesity can change the structure and workload of the heart. This change in the heart's shape and how it works is tied to serious heart health problems.
"It's disturbing, although not surprising, that the changes in obese kids' risk factors and heart structure mirror what we see in obese adults," said Dr. Sarah Samaan, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas.
"We know from other studies that obese children are very likely to remain obese throughout their lifetimes, greatly increasing their risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney failure," said Dr. Samaan, who was not involved in this study.
Norman Mangner, MD, and colleagues studied 101 children between 9 and 16 years old. The team used echocardiograms to observe how obesity affected the physical development and function of the heart.
An echocardiogram uses sound pressure from an ultrasound to create a cross section of the heart. This imaging technique shows doctors the heart's internal structure and how blood flows through it.
“Children are ideal subjects to observe the effect of obesity on the heart,” Dr. Mangner, of the University of Leipzig in Germany, sad in a press statement. “This is because they are likely free of clinically relevant cardiovascular disease adults may suffer from.”
The researchers used body mass index (BMI) to determine obesity. BMI is a height- and weight-based measure of body fat. The study included 61 obese kids and 40 kids with normal BMI.
Dr. Mangner and team performed the echocardiogram and blood test on the study participants.
The researchers found that obese children had larger left and right heart chambers than non-obese children.
The authors wrote that being obese increased the workload on the heart. More pressure and volume led to enlarged heart chambers.
"The structural changes in the hearts of these youngsters also portend a greater likelihood of congestive heart failure, which can lead to serious and chronic disability, drastically raise the cost of medical care, and limit future employability," Dr. Samaan said.
"It's important that parents understand that obesity is not a cosmetic issue, and the sooner it is addressed, the better the chances are that a child will grow up to have a healthy and productive future," she said.
Dr. Mangner and colleagues noted that their study's findings do not necessarily mean the obese kids will go on to develop heart disease or related heart problems.
They also wrote that their findings don’t address “potential reversibility of the changes with weight loss over time. Therefore, the clinical significance of these changed values in obese children remains unknown and will require extensive … follow-up to determine their predictive value.”
The study was published online Oct. 8 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The German Research Foundation for the Clinical Research Center funded the study. A study co-author disclosed receiving speaker fees, research support and consulting work with private companies.