As part of the annual American Heart Association conference in New Orleans, several new studies have garnered attention – providing further evidence for something we all believe is true. In one such study, obese kids (and kids with high cholesterol) had arteries resembling those of an average 45-year-old. Not good.
Another study reported in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine offers more evidence that abdominal fat increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, meaning that you have a host of cardiovascular problems including insulin resistance and heart disease.
Generally speaking, Dr. Lee Goldman, a cardiologist and dean of the faculties of health, sciences and medicine at Columbia University calls “the obesity epidemic in adolescents (…) the biggest adverse time bomb we’ve got going on in coronary diseases.”
Child Obesity Seen as Warning of Heart Disease
Childhood obesity is considered an epidemic in the United States, with about 16 percent of children ages 2 to 19 considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the number of new cases of childhood obesity appears to be leveling off, some experts say they are now seeing an increase in Type 2 diabetes in children, which they believe is a consequence of increased obesity.
The study, presented Tuesday, found that the thickness of artery walls of children and teenagers who are obese or have high cholesterol resembled the thickness of artery walls of an average 45-year-old.
The study was small, involving 70 children ages 6 to 19, and several experts said the results would need to be replicated to be considered conclusive – but they said the method used to measure artery wall thickness was considered a reliable indicator of heart disease risk, usually more reliable than cholesterol levels or other measures. The method, which uses ultrasound, has been applied to children in other studies in the last few years, but experts said this appeared to be the first time that results had been correlated to adults.
While it is too early to know if the current generation of American children will suffer more heart attacks, strokes or other heart problems, or experience them sooner, many heart researchers consider the growing corroboration of links between childhood obesity and heart disease alarming. Still, Dr. Raghuveer said that for the children she studied, hope was not lost.
“A lot of these kids’ arteries, even though they are in the early stages of atherosclerosis, are not hardened or calcified, not really advanced,” she said. “There may be an opportunity to implement lifestyle alterations, be it exercise, be it diet, or perhaps even medication. Perhaps it may be reversed.”
General and Abdominal Fat
Another study, conducted in Europe from 1992 to 2000, examined the association of body-mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio with the risk of death among more than 350,000 European people who had no major chronic diseases. The data suggest that both general and abdominal adiposity, commonly referred to fat, are associated with the risk of death and support the use of waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio in addition to BMI for assessment of the risk of death, particularly among persons with a lower BMI.
While researchers may not know all the why’s of abdominal fat, they do know what a person can do about it. The first step is to find out if you’re at risk. Measure your waist: The threshold for increased risk in women is 35 inches and for men, it’s 40 inches. If your waist is larger than that, you should lose weight.
The good news? Stomach fat is so biologically active, it is typically the first fat to go. Learn more in this excellent NPR segment on the study.
Source: Pischon, T et al “General and Abdominal Adiposity and Risk of Death in Europe”, New England Journal of Medicine, 2008; 359: 2105-2120.