CINCINNATI—Obese children as young as 11 have increased thickness and stiffness (atherosclerosis) of their carotid arteries – factors associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart attacks in adults. Moreover, abnormal carotid arteries, which supply blood to the brain, are found in obese adolescents who do not yet have type 2 diabetes.
The findings, published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, indicate that "comprehensive lifestyle interventions to reduce obesity be applied now if we are to prevent a projected decline in life expectancy for teens and young adults," says Elaine Urbina, MD, a cardiologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the study’s lead author.Urbina also is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
Physicians should address cardiovascular risk factors early in life to prevent stroke and heart attacks in adulthood, and they should continue to screen for abnormalities in cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure, especially in children with an elevated body mass index or type 2 diabetes, according to Urbina.
"These findings are particularly disturbing as the prevalence of obesity-related metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in youth is increasing across the globe and may lead to a parallel increase in adverse cardiovascular outcomes."
The researchers studied 446 10 to 24 year olds who were examined as part of an ongoing study of the cardiac and vascular effects of obesity and type 2 diabetes. They were divided into three groups: Those who were lean, those who were obese and those who had type 2 diabetes. The researchers demonstrated that teens and young adults who are obese have increased thickness and stiffness of the carotid artery, and those who were both obese and had type 2 diabetes had even higher levels of carotid atherosclerosis.
More specifically, there was a gradual increase in thickness of the common carotid and the carotid bulb -- the area where the carotid splits into internal and external branches -- in youth who were obese compared to those who were lean, and a further increase in those with type 2 diabetes. Abnormalities in internal carotid thickness and carotid stiffness measures were equally severe in obese youth and those with type 2 diabetes.
The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center is one of America’s top three children’s hospitals for general pediatrics and is highly ranked for its expertise in digestive diseases, respiratory diseases, cancer, neonatal care, heart care and neurosurgery, according to the annual ranking of best children's hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. One of the three largest children’s hospitals in the U.S., Cincinnati Children’s is affiliated with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health.
For its achievements in transforming healthcare, Cincinnati Children's is one of six U.S. hospitals since 2002 to be awarded the American Hospital Association-McKesson Quest for Quality Prize ® for leadership and innovation in quality, safety and commitment to patient care. The hospital is a national and international referral center for complex cases, so that children with the most difficult-to-treat diseases and conditions receive the most advanced care leading to better outcomes.