MONDAY, April 5, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Diet and regular exercise can reverse artery damage in overweight children, says a study in the April 6 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
The study notes that the arteries of overweight children are like those of middle-aged smokers. That increases the risk that overweight children will suffer a heart attack or stroke at an early age.
"We were surprised that the children had developed vascular abnormalities at such a young age -- and by how readily these could be reversed with simple lifestyle measures," researcher Dr. Kam S. Woo, chairman and professor of medicine and therapeutics and consultant cardiologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said in a prepared statement.
Woo and colleagues studied 54 boys and 28 girls, with an average age of 9.9 years. Based on body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height), 28 of the children were deemed overweight and 54 were obese. The youngsters already showed signs of atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries.
The children's vascular test results matched those of a 45-year-old adult who had been smoking for more than 10 years. Compared to normal-weight children, these overweight and obese children were three to five times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke before age 65, Woo said.
The children were divided into two groups. One group ate a diet low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. The second group ate the same diet and also did twice-weekly, 75-minute exercise sessions that included aerobics, resistance training, and agility exercises.
After six weeks, the children in both groups had significantly reduced their waist-to-hip ratio, lowered their total cholesterol, and improved their artery health. Diet and exercise resulted in a much greater improvement in artery health than diet alone, the study found.
Children who stuck with the exercise and diet program for a year continued to show improvement.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about childhood obesity.