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Signs of Heart Disease can be Detected in 8-year-old Obese Children, Researchers Say

Update Date: Nov 11, 2015 10:39 AM EST

Obese children as young as eight-years-old can already have signs of heart disease, a new study reported.

For this study, the research team headed by Linyuan Jing of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania compared imaging scans of the hearts of 20 obese and 20 normal weight-children. All 40 participants, between the ages of eight and 16, underwent a cardiac magnetic resonance scan. The researchers did not include children who have diabetes and children who could not fit into the resonance scanner.

The researchers found that obese children had evidence of thickening in their hearts, which is an early sign of strain. Any type of strain can increase risk of stroke, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm and sudden death.

More specifically, the researchers found that the left ventricle of the hearts in obese children had 27 percent more muscle mass than the left ventricle of the hearts in normal-weight children. The obese children's hearts were also 12 percent thicker. On top of that, 40 percent of the obese children's hearts already displayed signs of reduce heart capacity, which meant that their hearts were no longer pumping blood as effectively as before. This group was considered to be "high risk" for cardiac strain and heart disease in adulthood.

"This implies that obese children even younger than 8 years old likely have signs of heart disease too," Jing said reported by NBC News. "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."

The researchers noted that their study could be underestimating the effects that obesity has on children's hearts since they did not include children on the heavier side. They added that obesity could have an effect on the hearts of children even younger than eight. However, more studies need to be conducted to determine how early obesity can affect the heart and whether or not these effects are permanent.

The study's findings were presented at the American Heart Association meeting.

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