Study: In overweight children, heart risks can start as early as 3

When children are overweight, heart health risk factors such as dangerous cholesterol levels and artery inflammation can start as early as age 3, according to a University of Miami study published in this week’s medical journal Obesity.

“There’s clearly a link between weight and cardiovascular risk,” said Sarah Messiah, a UM research assistant professor and lead author of the study. “When a doctor sees an overweight child at age 3, he has to talk to the parents about it. The negative health processes are not 20 years down the road — they’re already starting.”

Added Steven E. Lipshultz, another author of the study and chair of pediatrics at the UM Medical School: “This is a new concept, since many have felt that although children are obese, the health consequences do not manifest clinically until they are older.”

The new study updates a paper Messiah presented in 2009 at an American Heart Association meeting in Tampa. The information in the study is culled from health records of 3,644 3-to-6-year-old children from the 1999-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, a nationwide databank.

Earlier studies had detected such problems, but mostly in children ages 8 and older. In the United States, 19 percent of children 2 to 18 are obese, and 30 percent are overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re seeing lots of children at risk for becoming diabetic, and it can happen in their 20s instead of their 40s,” Messiah said.

The UM study measured children’s waist circumference and body-mass index (BMI), which is calculated from a person’s height and weight and is considered a good indicator of fatness, according to the CDC.

“This is the first time it’s been documented in a multi-ethnic group like this,” Messiah said.

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