Signs of heart disease are now showing up in obese children as young as 8 years old.

Researchers analyzed MRI scans of 20 obese children (seven teens, the rest younger) and
20 healthy children. Several other children
were omitted from the study because they had diabetes or were unable to fit into the MRI machine. Lead study author Linyuan Jing, PhD, a researcher at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania, observed that the data his study produced might be inaccurate because it could be assumed that heart disease scores would be higher for those larger children.

The scans showed that in the obese group
the heart’s left ventricle had 27% more mass and 12% more thickness than in the “healthy weight” children. Both factors are signs of heart disease. Forty percent of the obese subjects also showed concentric hypertrophy—a condition in which
the heart’s walls have thickened, impairing its ability to maximally pump blood to the body. These heart abnormalities were seen in children as young as 8 years old.

The authors warned that, if left unchecked, these children would face significant heart health risks in the future.

“Parents should be highly motivated to help their children maintain a healthy weight,” urged Jing in a press release. “Ultimately, we hope that the effects we see in the hearts of these children are reversible; however, it is possible that there could be permanent damage. This should be further motivation for parents to help children lead a healthy lifestyle.”

The findings were first presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2015 and were published in Circulation (2015; 132, A15439).

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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