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Overweight, Obese Teens Show Early Heart Risks

Many Obese, Overweight Teens Have Heart Disease Risk Factors, Damaged Hearts

Teens and Heart Changes: New Findings

In a second study, European researchers measured heart size and tested heart function in 97 healthy teens, average age about 13.

The researchers found that the obese teens, even though they had no heart disease symptoms, had damaged hearts. They had thicker walls in the left ventricle, one of the heart's chambers.

As this wall thickens, heart problems are more likely later on in life. 

Dejan Maras, MD, of Luton and Dunstable Hospital in London, is presenting the findings.

His team also found obese teens had a reduction in the speed of blood flow, both when the heart is pumping and when it is resting between beats.

"It is surprising that even in adolescence, the beginning of heart damage happens," says researcher Gani Bajraktari, PhD, professor of internal medicine and cardiology at the University of Pristina in Kosovo. While the damage found was mild, he says it should motivate teens and their parents to reduce obesity and change lifestyle to prevent further damage. 

The European Society of Cardiology hosts the meeting.

 

Teens and Heart Disease Risk: Perspective

The message from the new research is pretty straightforward, says Reginald Washington, MD, chief medical officer of the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver.

Washington, a member of the Obesity Task Force for the American Academy of Pediatrics, reviewed the findings for WebMD.

"The more you weigh, the harder your heart has to work to circulate blood through the body," he says. "That is a pretty simple concept for people to understand."

"If you add on top of that [excess weight], if you have high blood pressure, even mildly elevated, that also makes your heart work harder to circulate the blood."

The new European findings of a thicker heart wall in obese teens also make sense, he says. The heart muscle works harder in those who are obese, he says.

"Like any muscle, if you work it harder, it gets thicker," he says. Eventually, he tells WebMD, that thicker wall will put people at risk for heart problems.

"The more of these risk factors you have, the harder your heart has to work," he says.

Improved technology could be picking up more findings than before, Washington says. That could be a small piece of the new observations. But our ''obesogenic" society is likely playing a role, he says.

Teens and Heart Disease Risk: Parents' Plan

Washington finds many families are quick to blame genetics for their weight problems.

He tells them that genetics play a role but to consider another possibility: "Maybe your whole family is overweight because you all lead the same lifestyle," he says.

Parents can encourage their overweight or obese teens to make small changes, he says.

That tends to work better than declaring a major lifestyle overhaul.

Among his tips:

  • If your teen has three sodas a day, suggest that he or she cut out one, to start.
  • Instead of two fast food cheeseburgers, order one.
  • Split an order of fries among the family.
  • Walk around the block after dinner, as a family.
  • Do what you can at home to promote a healthier lifestyle, and encourage your teen to follow it when he or she is away from home.

Some of these findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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