The health risks of being an overweight or obese child are not exactly breaking news to anyone, but now a team of researchers at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania, have found that obese children are experiencing even more health dangers than previously known. The Geisinger team, headed up by Linyuan Jing, while at the American Heart Association annual meeting in Florida this week reported that obese children as young as age eight are showing signs of heart disease. The study, not yet published, and small in size, is alarming. What the researchers found after comparing 20 obese kids to 20 healthy weight kids was that obese children had 27% more muscle mass in the left ventricle of their hearts and 12% thicker heart muscles – both signs of heart disease – compared to normal weight peers of the same age. A full 40% of the obese children were further considered “high-risk” due to thickened muscle in the heart as well as impaired pumping ability. The results, based on imaging tests of obese children all in all, showed signs of significant heart disease and heart muscle abnormalities. Although none of the children showed physical symptoms yet, the researchers reminded everyone that heart problems during childhood can lead to more complicated health conditions in adulthood and premature death from heart disease. Jing noted, “Parents should be highly motivated to help their children maintain a healthy weight. Ultimately we hope that the effects we see in the hearts of these children are reversible. However, it is possible that there could be permanent damage. This should be further motivation for parents to help children lead a healthy lifestyle.”

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