The prevalence of childhood obesity has increased at an alarming rate, with more than 41 million overweight children under the age of five in 2016. A new study from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) has revealed that four-year-olds who are overweight have more than double the risk of high blood pressure by age six.
“The myth that excess weight in children has no consequences hampers the prevention and control of this health problem,” said study author Dr. Iñaki Galán. “Parents need to be more physically active with young children and provide a healthy diet. Women should shed extra pounds before becoming pregnant, avoid gaining excess weight during pregnancy, and quit smoking, as these are all established risk factors for childhood obesity.”
The researchers investigated the link between excess weight and high blood pressure in 1,796 four-year-olds. Blood pressure was measured initially and also two years later, as well as body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.
Compared to children who maintained a healthy weight between ages four and six, the risk of high blood pressure in those with new or persistent excess weight was 2.54 times greater. In those with persistent abdominal obesity, the risk for high blood pressure was up to 3.42 times greater. Furthermore, children who lost weight did not have an increased risk of high blood pressure.
“There is a chain of risk, whereby overweight and obesity lead to high blood pressure, which heightens the chance of cardiovascular disease if allowed to track into adulthood,” said Dr. Galán. “But the results show that children who return to a normal weight also regain a healthy blood pressure.”
According to Dr. Galán, the best way to maintain a healthy weight is to exercise and eat a healthy diet. He also pointed out that doctors should routinely assess BMI and waist circumference at early ages.
“Some pediatricians think the harms of overweight and obesity begin in adolescence but our study shows they are mistaken. We need to detect excess weight as soon as possible so the damaging impact on blood pressure can be reversed.”
The study is published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer
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