Childhood obesity can lead to higher blood pressure, increased risk of future stroke or heart attack: Study

The myth that excess weight in children has no consequences can impede the prevention of such a severe health problem, according to the research team

New research has shown that children who are overweight or obese are at considerable risk of developing high blood pressure which increases the danger of heart attacks or strokes in the future.

Overweight four-year-olds have a doubled risk of high blood pressure by the age of six, raising the hazard of future heart attack and stroke, according to the findings published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

“Our findings show that from early ages, those children who reverted to a normal weight decreased their blood pressure to levels comparable to those with normal anthropometric values," study author Dr. Iñaki Galán from Carlos III Health Institute, Spain, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).

"Therefore, the early detection and control of childhood obesity may reduce the risk of high blood pressure,” Galán added.

The researchers found that children who lost weight did not have an increased risk of high blood pressure. The findings applied to all children, regardless of sex or socio-economic status.

According to the research team, the myth that excess weight in children has no consequences can impede the prevention of such a severe health problem. “Parents and teachers should develop a good environment at home and in school, encouraging children to be more physically active and to eat a healthier diet. Doctors should screen excess weight and obesity at early ages as a routine in medical consultations as soon as possible, measuring general obesity by body mass index (BMI) and abdominal obesity by waist circumference simultaneously,” Dr. Iñaki Galán told MEAWW.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.

The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low-income and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings, according to the WHO.

In 2016, the number of overweight children under the age of five was estimated to be over 41 million globally.

The study examined the association between obesity at baseline and weight changes between the ages of 4 and 6 years and high blood pressure. It covered 1,796 four-year-olds over two years. Blood pressure, body mass index, and waist circumference were measured during physical examinations. “We observed an increased risk for high blood pressure among 4-year-olds who presented with persistent or incident cases of excess weight or abdominal obesity after two years of follow-up,” said the paper.

The findings show that, compared to children who maintained a healthy weight between ages four and six, those with new or persistent excess weight, according to BMI, had 2.49 and 2.54 higher risks of high blood pressure, respectively. In children with new or persistent abdominal obesity, the risks for high blood pressure were 2.81 and 3.42 greater, respectively.

“After two years of follow-up, children diagnosed with either general or abdominal obesity at the age of 4 years showed an average increase of 4-5 mmHg systolic and 2.5-3 mmHg diastolic BP. The probability of having high BP was 2-2.5 times higher in obese children,” said the paper.

Dr. Galán said that overweight in children can be most accurately analyzed using both BMI and waist circumference. He said that using either measurement alone in the study would have missed 15% to 20% of cases of overweight/obesity.

“It is under discussion the role that different anthropometric indicators can play on cardiovascular risk. For example, waist circumference has been proposed as a better marker of visceral adiposity (abdominal fat) than BMI, based on the former’s stronger association with obesity-related complications. In our study, obese patients classified only by BMI or by waist circumference had an increase of 3.5 and 4 mmHg of systolic BP; and the obese classified by both measurements had an increase of 5 mmHg. These results support the combined use of both general and abdominal obesity measures as a determinant factor influencing blood pressure BP,” Dr. Galán said.


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