WEDNESDAY, Nov. 24, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Obese children are more likely than normal-weight kids to have dangerously enlarged heart muscles as they enter adulthood, according to a Tulane University study in the November issue of the journal Circulation.
Enlargement of the left ventricle -- the heart's main pumping chamber -- is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death among adults in the United States and around the world.
"The more obese a child is, the more enlarged the heart becomes 21 years later," study co-author Shengxu Li said in a prepared statement.
"Simply being obese means your heart has to work harder, even in childhood. The added burden of high blood pressure, which is commonly associated with obesity, and other related health problems can actually contribute to a change in the structure of the heart," Li said.
He and his colleagues analyzed data from 467 people, ages 20 to 38, taking part in the long-running Bogalusa Heart Study. The researchers found a correlation between high blood pressure in adulthood and increased mass in the left ventricle.
Improvements in lifestyle, plus appropriate drug therapy, can help shrink swollen heart tissue, however. "The enlargement of the left ventricle can be stopped and even reversed with appropriate interventions," Li said. "Our research indicates a need to take obesity in children seriously and begin preventing and reducing weight gain early in life."
The American Heart Association has information about heart disease risk factors.