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Scientists Link Childhood Obesity to Heart Disease

Children who are overweight are at significant risk of developing heart disease as adults. That's the conclusion of two studies published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, which predicts what experts have long suspected about the health hazards of obesity in kids. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

The largest of the two studies was conducted in Denmark by Jennifer Baker and colleagues at the University of Copenhagen.

The investigators took the height and weight data of virtually every school child born in the Danish city between 1930 and 1976, or about 288,000 children, and followed their health through 2001.

The researchers discovered that the more the children weighed, the greater their risk of developing heart disease as adults, including fatal heart attack. The risk was highest among the heaviest children in each age group.

David Ludwig is a weight consultant at Children's Hopsital in Boston, Massachusetts. Ludwig says the results are wake-up call.

"The highest weight catagory that they used in this Danish study would barely qualify as overweight, would barely make it out of the normal weight catagory used in the United States for children," said David Ludwig. "So, the bottom line is this generation of obese children is facing huge risks for a lifetime of cardiovascular disease and other weight-related problems as they age."

The second study, by researchers at the University of Calfornia at San Francisco, used a computer model to estimate how many more heart disease cases there would be in the United States as a result of adolescent obesity.

Experts say that previous studies have found that three million people between ages of 12 and 19 have heart disease by the time they are 35 to 50-years-old.

Using a computer model and plugging in weight data from obese adolescents from the year 2000, researchers estimated there would be more than a 100,000 extra cases of heart disease by 2035, which is an increase of 16 percent, and heart disease deaths could increase by as much as 19 percent for the 35 to 50 age group.

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California and the study's lead author.

"We were really surprised at the magnitude by the magnitude of how large this increase was," said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo. "And it really suggests that we really have to work now to prevent children from becoming overweight because this is going to have an impact well into adulthood."

The good news, according to David Ludwig of Boston's Children's Hospital, is the health problems of obesity are reversible.

"It's not unprecedented to see even adolescents with type two diabetes, which can become a permanent condition, reverse it which potentially long term cure just with significant weight loss," he said. "So, it's really never too late. But being excessively heavy in childhood may confer increased risk for a lifetime of chronic medical problems if it's not adequately addressed."

David Ludwig commented on the research in the New England Journal of Medicine.