A red flag for future heart disease

Obese children appear to have a blood vessel abnormality similar to what doctors see in much older adults with cardiovascular disease, a study has found.

TORONTO — Obese children appear to have a blood vessel abnormality similar to what doctors see in much older adults with cardiovascular disease, a study has found.

Lead author Dr. Kevin Harris, a cardiology fellow at B.C. Children’s Hospital, said tests in a group of obese children showed the aorta — the major artery from the heart — had lost normal elasticity, as if the aging process has been accelerated in the blood vessel.

“We were surprised to find that these obese children already have stiff blood vessels,” said Harris. “Aortic stiffness is an early indicator of cardiovascular disease in obese children.”

The aorta, the largest artery in the body, carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to all the other arteries.

“The normal aorta has elastic qualities that buffer the flow of blood. When that elasticity is lost, aortic stiffness results — a sign of developing cardiovascular disease,” said Harris, adding that aortic stiffness in adults is associated with heart attacks and stroke that can result in premature death.

He said the childhood obesity rate has risen dramatically over the last 30 years, leading to predictions that life expectancy in Canada is set to decline for the first time in the country’s history.

“I think that underscores the magnitude of the problem,” Harris said.