Its Whats Inside That Counts

New research has shown that obese children have arteries of a 45-year old.

This study, presented at the American Heart Association’s annual scientific sessions in New Orleans states that obese children have neck arteries that have aged prematurely, which puts them at risk for future heart disease and cholesterol problems.

Researchers studied 70 obese kids aged 10 to 18 by using ultrasound imaging to measure the thickness of the inner walls of the carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain. They found the children’s vascular age was 30 years older than their real age.

“There’s a saying that you’re as old as your arteries,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Geetha Raghuveer, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine. “These kids are showing up with arteries that show middle-aged conditions.”

The study found that the children had abnormal levels of various types of cholesterol: high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – “bad” cholesterol; low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – “good” cholesterol; or high triglyceride levels, which is the amount of fat circulating in the blood.

The children’s average carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) was .45 millimeters, with a maximum of .75 millimeters. One 12-year-old boy logged a CIMT of .54, which placed him right in the middle of measurements expected to be seen in a healthy 45-year-old man – .50 millimeters to .57 millimeters.

“If I see a kid with a .54 plaque in his carotid artery, a 12-year-old kid, I’m going to be concerned,” Raghuveer said.

The higher the CIMT reading, the more plaque is built up in the arteries that allow bloodflow to the brain. Heart attack and stroke can occur if these arteries become constricted.

Researchers state that further studies are needed in order to determine if exercising, losing weight or taking medication for high triglyceride levels can lower existing plaque buildup.