Overweight 9-year-old girls at heart risk

Girls as young as age 9 who are overweight are at heightened risk for serious short-term and long-term health problems that put them at increased risk for developing heart disease, a study released today indicates. For example, overweight girls are more likely to have elevated blood pressure and cholesterol compared with their normal-weight counterparts.

As part of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Growth and Health Study, 1,166 Caucasian and 1,213 African American girls ages 9 and 10 years were tracked for more than 10 years. Researchers measured the girls’ height, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol annually through age 18. They also obtained self-reported measures at ages 21 to 23 years.

According to the report of the study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, overweight rates increased through adolescence from 7 to 10 percent in the Caucasian girls and from 17 to 24 percent in African American girls. Girls were 1.6 times more likely to become overweight between 9 and 12 years of age than in later adolescence.

“Girls who were overweight during childhood were 11 to 30 times more likely to be obese in young adulthood,” Dr. Douglas R. Thompson from Maryland Medical Research Institute, Baltimore, and colleagues report.

What’s particularly concerning, the authors report, is that young girls who were overweight were 3 to 10 times more likely to have unhealthy blood pressure levels, HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol), and triglyceride levels. They were also 3-times more likely to have high levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).

These data indicate that a relationship between cardiovascular disease risk factors and overweight is already present at age 9 and “suggest that pediatricians should address the health correlates of overweight during childhood.”

“The challenge for clinicians, community leaders, researchers, and public health officials will be to develop effective innovative obesity prevention interventions that can be widely generalized and disseminated, so that the dire prediction that deaths related to obesity will soon become the leading cause of mortality in the United States does not come to pass,” Thompson and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: Journal of Pediatrics, January 2007.

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