May 26 (Bloomberg) -- Teenagers and young adults who are obese or who have diabetes show signs of damaged heart arteries that may lead to heart attacks, strokes and shortened lives, a study found.
Children and young adults who were seriously overweight or were type 2 diabetics were more likely than those without these problems to have a buildup of plaque in the arteries that could lead to heart disease, according to a study published today in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
The 446-patient analysis is the largest study to date of adolescents and young adults with known risk factors for heart disease to look for early signs of arterial damage, said the study’s lead author, Elaine Urbina, in a telephone interview. The incidence of childhood obesity doubled over two decades to 14 percent of children aged 2 to 19 in 2000, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Data from more recent years showed that percentage stabilizing.
“This may be the first generation that has shorter life expectancies than their parents,” said Urbina, a pediatric cardiologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center Heart Institute in Ohio. “We have to attack the obesity problem on many fronts.”
The study participants, ranging in age from 10 to 24, were given cardiac ultrasounds, an imaging test commonly used in adults. The test, which typically takes about 20 to 30 minutes, allowed researchers to measure the thickness and stiffness of the carotid arteries, the main arteries that bring blood to the brain. In adults, a thickening and stiffness of the carotid artery has been linked to increased risk of stroke and heart disease, Urbina said.
Participants were divided into three groups: those who were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, were obese, or were of normal or “lean” weight. In four of five measures, the diabetic and obese groups had thicker and stiffer arteries, indicators of a higher future risk of heart attacks and stroke, according to the study.
Because the arterial damage has started at an early age and is known to progress over time, obese and diabetic children and young adults face a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as early death, Urbina said.
“This is a family lifestyle problem, and also a problem with the way we take care of kids in school,” Urbina said. “We have poor nutrition in school lunches and a lack of physical education.”
The findings may eventually help lead to earlier diagnosis and medical treatment for obese and diabetic children and young adults, Urbina said. Physicians typically recommend lifestyle changes, such as more exercise and a better diet, or drugs for high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol, she said.
“Comprehensive lifestyle interventions to reduce obesity must be applied now if we are to prevent a projected decline in life expectancy for our youth,” Urbina and colleagues wrote. The study was funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.
An estimated 24 million Americans have diabetes in the U.S., with type 2 diabetes being the most common form of the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?p...ge8&refer=home