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Heart Risk Factors for Obese Kids Murky

Blood pressure rose in 1990s, but cholesterol remained unchanged

MONDAY, Dec. 6, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- More of America's young people are getting fat, but the results aren't showing up consistently in obesity-related risk factors for heart disease, U.S. researchers report.

While the results from a new study don't show any smoking gun finding cardiovascular problems in kids, another expert says this is no cause for complacency.

Data from two national surveys shows that the waist circumference of boys aged 2 to 17 expanded by 1.6 centimeters (about two-thirds of an inch) from the average reported in a 1988-1994 study to one done in 1999-2000, according to the study in the December issue of Pediatrics.

A group led by Dr. Earl S. Ford of the Division of Adult and Community Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the waistline of girls in the same age group expanded by 2.4 centimeters, almost a full inch.

And readings of blood pressure, a significant risk factor, were up by 2.2 points in the 8-to-17 age group, the study found. These findings are consistent with what observers had noticed in the last decade, but others were not.

For instance, blood levels of cholesterol -- both LDL, the "bad" kind that clogs arteries, and HDL, the "good" kind -- were relatively unchanged, while blood levels of triglycerides, fat molecules related to heart risk, and of glucose, a marker of diabetes risk, actually declined slightly between the two surveys, the researchers reported.

And so, they concluded, "The effects of the increasing prevalence of obesity on the cardiovascular health of children and adolescents remain unclear."

But the report shouldn't give parents "a false sense of security," said Dr. Stephen R. Daniels, a professor of pediatrics and environmental health at the Cincinnati Children's Medical Center and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

"Some of these findings might be seen as reassuring, but we know over time that these relationships might change," Daniels said. "The timing probably is one in which obesity develops first, then other risk factors are affected downstream."

It's also possible that the averages don't single out groups of youngsters who already are at higher risk, like those with the biggest waistlines, Daniels said.

"No one is saying that kids who are obese now won't have problems later," he said.

"It's not good news, for sure," said study author Dr. Earl S. Ford, a medical officer in the CDC's Division of Adult and Community Health. "We hate to see any increases in obesity."

A similar pattern has been seen in studies of adults, with an increase in blood pressure as a first indicator of increasing cardiovascular risk among people who become obese, Ford said.

However, Ford was at a loss to explain the lower cholesterol and glucose markers in the new study. However, the data can't give a complete picture of the relationship between youthful obesity and risk factors such as diabetes, he said. "There have been anecdotal reports from physicians who say they are seeing an increase in type 2 diabetes in their clinical practice," he noted.

So, even though the numbers in the study aren't definitive, "the obesity epidemic among children poses a serious challenge to the collective health of the U.S. population," the report said.

More information

The risks of childhood obesity and what can be done about it can be found at the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Stephen R. Daniels, M.D., professor, pediatrics and environmental health, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center; December 2004 Pediatrics
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