Obese 3-year-olds show early warning signs for future heart disease (w/ Video)

March 1, 2010

A study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers found that obese children as young as 3 years old have elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that in adults is considered an early warning sign for possible future heart disease.

In addition, the study found elevated levels of two other inflammatory markers - the ratio of ferritin/transferrin saturation (F/T) and the absolute neutrophil count (ANC) - in obese children. Elevated F/T levels started at age 6 and elevated ANC levels were found starting at age 9.

"These findings were a surprise to us," said lead author Asheley Cockrell Skinner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UNC School of Medicine. "We're seeing a relationship between weight status and elevated inflammatory markers much earlier than we expected."

A study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers found that obese children as young as 3 years old have elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that in adults is considered an early warning sign for possible future heart disease. Credit: UNC Medical Center News Office

"Most adults understand that being overweight or obese isn't good for them," Skinner said. "But not as many people realize that it may be unhealthy for young children to be overweight."

It can be very difficult for parents to tell when their child is overweight, Skinner said. "Especially with younger children and smaller children, because they're so short it only takes seven or eight pounds to change them from being a healthy weight to being overweight," she said.

The study was published online March 1 by the journal Pediatrics. Skinner and fellow Department of Pediatrics researchers Eliana Perrin, M.D., M.P.H., Michael Steiner, M.D. and Frederick Henderson, M.D. arrived at these findings after analyzing data collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 to 2006.

Their analysis included data from 16,335 children ages 1-17 years, who were grouped into four categories based on their (BMI): healthy weight, overweight, obese and very obese. Under this scheme, a 3.5-year-old who is 39 inches tall and weighs 34 pounds would be in the healthy weight category while a child of the same age and height weighing 43 pounds would be considered very obese. In the group of children analyzed, nearly 70 percent were healthy weight, 15 percent were overweight, 11 percent were obese and 3.5 percent were very obese.

Among very obese children ages 3-5, more than 40 percent (42.5 percent) had elevated CRP compared to only approximately 17 percent of healthy weight children. Among older children the difference was even more pronounced. In ages 15-17, 83 percent of the very obese had elevated CRP compared to 18 percent of the healthy weight. The study concludes that weight status and elevated inflammatory markers are strongly related, even in young children, and further research should examine the impact of long-term, low-grade in overweight and obese children.

"In this study we were unable to tease apart whether the inflammation or the obesity came first, but one theory is that obesity leads to inflammation which then leads to heart and vessel disease later on," said Perrin, senior author of the study.

"A lot more work needs to be done before we figure out the full implication of these findings. But this study tells us that very young, already have more inflammation than children who are not obese, and that's very concerning. It may help motivate us as physicians and parents to take obesity at younger ages more seriously," Perrin said.

Cam Patterson, M.D., M.B.A., UNC's chief of cardiology and director of the UNC McAllister Heart Institute, said he found it alarming that inflammation associated with obesity is present even in the youngest . "But that doesn't mean young kids are going to start having heart attacks," he said. "What it does mean is that the inflammatory process that damages blood vessels around the heart may begin much earlier than we have realized.

"There is a ray of hope here, though," said Patterson, who was not involved in the study. "This study suggests that we may be able to reduce the long-term adverse consequences of inflammation on the heart if we can introduce measures that reduce the frequency of childhood health problems such as obesity and other triggers of inflammation."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Hormone therapy in the menopause transition did not increase stroke risk

November 24, 2017
Postmenopausal hormone therapy is not associated with increased risk of stroke, provided that it is started early, according to a report from Karolinska Institutet published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Moderate coffee drinking 'more likely to benefit health than to harm it', say experts

November 22, 2017
Drinking coffee is "more likely to benefit health than to harm it" for a range of health outcomes, say researchers in The BMJ today.

When traveling on public transport, you may want to cover your ears

November 22, 2017
The noise levels commuters are exposed to while using public transport or while biking, could induce hearing loss if experienced repeatedly and over long periods of time, according to a study published in the open access ...

Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

November 22, 2017
Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm

November 22, 2017
Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Sunrise and sunset guide daily activities of city-dwellers

November 21, 2017
Despite artificial lightning and social conventions, the dynamics of daylight still influence the daily activities of people living in modern, urban environments, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

enriquecubillo
not rated yet Mar 01, 2010
I would love to begin a national high school bicycle race league to combat exactly this problem. Contact me

http://www.85photo.com

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.