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Obese Youths Found to Have Heart Damage

Previous research has determined a direct link between obesity and heart disease in adults, but are overweight and obese youths putting their hearts under a similar strain? Two studies released today suggest so.

One study, presented Monday at the Heart Failure Congress 2012 in Belgrade, Serbia, says that obese youths with no symptoms of heart disease appear to have heart damage already.

The study examined 97 healthy adolescents ages 11-14, dividing them into three categories based on their body mass index measurements: "Lean" (32 youths), "Overweight" (33 youths), and "Obese" (32 youths). Each participant went through an echocardiogram, along with blood tests, to determine how healthy their hearts currently were.

The findings may alarm any parents of obese youths. Despite having no symptoms of heart disease, the hearts of obese youths were already damaged. The thickness of their heart's left ventricular posterior wall increased relative to their BMI, according to the study. The hearts of obese youths also had functional deficiencies not found in the hearts of the lean or overweight subjects.

"Education on healthy food and exercise is needed in schools to prevent obesity and early cardiovascular disease in adolescents," said lead author Gani Bajraktari, professor of internal medicine and cardiology at the University of Pristina in Kosovo, in a statement. "This is an important step in preventing obesity and cardiovascular disease in adults."

Well and Good

Bajraktari and his colleagues say more research is needed to determine whether the damage to the heart can be reversed if obese youths better control their weight.

A separate study published online in the journal Pediatrics Monday found that nearly 50 percent of overweight children and more than 60 percent of obese children had at least one cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor putting them at risk of future heart troubles.

The study examined 3,383 participants aged 12 to 19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 through 2008, to see how many CVD risk factors were associated with each child. The researchers specifically looked at blood pressure levels, cholesterol levels, and whether or not the participants had prediabetes or diabetes. Approximately 34 percent of the adolescents in the study were considered either overweight or obese based on their BMI.

The researchers discovered that roughly half the overweight youths (49 percent) had one or more CVD risk factor in addition to their weight between 1999 and 2008. The figures only got worse for obese youths: 61 percent had one or more CVD risk factors.

Only 37 percent of normal-weight adolescents had one or more CVD risk factors, by comparison.

"The results presented here indicate that from a population level, a large proportion of adolescents, regardless of weight status, would beneļ¬t from interventions such as Let's Move and programs that promote overall healthy lifestyles, including physical activity, healthy diet, and healthy weight maintenance," the authors write.

The study authors also discovered that the rates of diabetes and prediabetes in youths have skyrocketed over the past decade, going from 9 percent of youths in 2000 to 23 percent in 2008.

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