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World Heart Day 2013: Obese children have precursors to atherosclerosis and diabetes

The road to a healthy heart

Risk Factors and Prevention

Sophia Antipolis, 29 September 2013: Obese children have blood vessel damage and insulin resistance that are precursors to atherosclerosis and diabetes, reveals research by Dr Norman Mangner presented at ESC Congress 2013. The findings highlight the need to adopt a healthy lifestyle early in life to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) which is the theme of World Heart Day 2013, held today.

Professor Grethe Tell (Norway), ESC prevention spokesperson, said:

“On World Heart Day 2013 the ESC is emphasising the importance of a healthy lifestyle from a young age. One in 10 school-aged children is overweight. Bad habits have an impact on young hearts and the effects carry on until adulthood. Regular exercise and a healthy diet need to be part of daily life from childhood and it’s essential that children do not take up smoking.”

A World Heart Federation survey last year found that half of adults believe they should wait until age 30 or older before taking action to prevent heart disease and stroke.  Professor Tell added:

“It is alarming to see that popular belief has it that you should wait until age 30 before looking after your heart health. The reality is that only a lifetime of avoiding common risk factors can be expected to prevent heart disease in the long run. ESC guidelines recommend that prevention should start during pregnancy and last throughout life.”

Dr Mangner’s research1 discovered that obese children had early stages of atherosclerosis, which is when arteries become clogged with fatty materials such as cholesterol. Atherosclerosis greatly increases the risk of developing CVD. Obese children also had insulin resistance as a pre-stage to diabetes and higher systolic blood pressure. The changes were still there after 2 years.  He said: 

"It is worrying that young obese children already have early signs of atherosclerosis, which puts them at increased risk of developing heart disease in later life. On top of that they also show early signs of diabetes. It is crucial that children are active and eat healthily to avoid becoming obese and sentencing themselves to a life of ill-health.”

Other research2 followed 2,552 subjects aged 25-39 years from the Framingham study for 30 years and found that obesity in young adults increases the risk of CVD or diabetes by 23%. Nearly the same increased risk was observed in normal weight adults with CVD risk factors (hypertension or dyslipidemia). Risk of CVD and diabetes was highest (45%) in obese young adults with risk factors, and lowest (13%) in those with normal weight and no risk factors.  First author Dr Tomasz Zdrojewski (Poland) said:

Adopting a healthy lifestyle in early life is clearly essential for avoiding disease later on. It’s not just being fat that is a risk. High blood pressure and high levels of fat in the blood are also dangerous. Eating healthy food and being active are a must for children.”

Professor Tell concluded:

“There is increasing evidence that unhealthy lifestyles even in very young children can increase their risk of future heart disease. Children who eat nutritious food, exercise and do not smoke are not just learning behaviours that will be important as adults, they are increasing their chances of avoiding heart disease.”

World Heart Day sets the stage for the launch of two European initiatives in November. Cardiovascular Health Week will be held 4-8 November with the theme “Mind Your Heart”. Awareness raising activities at the European Parliament in Brussels will be held to inform EU policymakers of the reach of cardiovascular disease, which is the main cause of death and disability in Europe despite being largely preventable. The week is being hosted by the Member of European Parliament (MEP) Heart Group and organised by the group’s secretariat (the ESC and the European Heart Network).

Cardiopolicy is an ESC initiative that will be launched on 4 November with its first official meeting. It aims to strengthen the lobbying impact of National Cardiac Societies in EU Affairs and will start with seven pilot countries (Denmark, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the UK).


Reference for ESC CVD Prevention Guidelines
European Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice (version 2012). European Heart Journal. 2012;33:1635–1701.

Abstracts from ESC Congress 2013
(1) Abstract 4361: Vascular alterations and risk factor profile in pre-pubertal obese children after two years of follow up
(2) Abstract 4362: Obesity confers similar 30-year risk of cardiovascular or diabetes as hypertension or hypercholesterolemia in young adults

Notes to editor

About World Heart Day
World Heart Day was created in 2000 to inform people around the globe that heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading cause of death, claiming 17.1 million lives each year. At least 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided if the main risk factors: tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, are controlled.  More information from WHF.  #worldheartday

About the European Society of Cardiology
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) represents more than 80,000 cardiology professionals across Europe and the Mediterranean. Its mission is to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in Europe.