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Childhood Obesity Increases Early Signs Of Cardiovascular Disease

Being obese may raise a child's future risk of heart disease and stroke. A new study found that the unhealthy consequences of excess body fat start very early.

Doctors know that certain proteins in the bloodstream are warning signs of a predisposition to heart disease. Many of these 'markers' become elevated long before the more familiar cholesterol and lipid levels do.

Dr. Nelly Mauras, chief of Pediatric Endocrinology at Nemours Children's Clinic in Florida, wanted to follow up on a study of adults with high levels of one of those markers, CRP, or C-reactive protein.

"The question in that particular study was: Can you prevent cardiovascular events by using statins and lowering CRP, even if your lipids are not elevated?" she says, "And the answer to that is a convincing yes. So we know these other markers are out there and reflect damage to come. So I thought it would be important to look at children that are just obese and don't have anything else wrong with them."

Dr. Mauras recruited more than 200 obese and lean children. Because she wanted to see the effect of puberty on blood chemistry, the boys and girls in the study ranged in age from 7 to 18. They were screened for a variety of known markers for predicting the development of heart disease. She says the results surprised her.

"What we found is that these markers are way up, particularly the CRP," she says. "The CRP in the pubertal, simply obese kids was about tenfold that of the non-obese kids, and the pre-pubertal ones were almost 12-fold."

Dr. Mauras stressed that her study did not prove that children with elevated CRP levels will develop cardiovascular disease as adults, or will have early heart attacks, "but the overwhelming body of data preceding a study like this suggests that it is a really significant red flag, and it also suggests to us that CRP is standing out as something worth measuring and worth following and trying to get down by pediatricians and family doctors alike."

She noted that doctors often do not treat obesity in children unless there are other medical issues, such as diabetes, and called for that practice to change. Dr. Mauras is now analyzing other data from the study to see how exercise, diet and medication affect markers.

She presented her findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.