Washington, November 12 : An Indian-origin researcher has found that the neck arteries of obese children and teenagers look more like those of 45-year-olds.
"There's a saying that 'you're as old as your arteries,' meaning that the state of your arteries is more important than your actual age in the evolution of heart disease and stroke. We found that the state of the arteries in these children is more typical of a 45-year-old than of someone their own age," said Dr. Geetha Raghuveer, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine and cardiologist at Children's Mercy Hospital.
During a presentation at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2008, it was revealed that the research team used ultrasound to gauge the thickness of the inner walls of the neck (carotid) arteries, which supply blood to the brain.
It may be noted that increasing carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) indicates the fatty build-up of plaque within arteries feeding the heart muscle and the brain, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
During the study, the researchers measured CIMT in 34 boys and 36 girls who were "at risk", and found that the kids had abnormal levels of one or more types of cholesterol - high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as "bad cholesterol"; low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also called the "good cholesterol"; or high triglyceride levels.
About 57 per cent children had a body mass index (BMI), a calculation of weight for height, above the 95th percentile. Their average CIMT was 0.45 millimetres (mm), with a maximum of 0.75 mm.
Geetha revealed that the kids' "vascular age", at which the level of thickening would be normal for their gender and race, was about 30 years older than their actual age.
She said that her study also revealed that having a higher BMI and higher systolic blood pressure had the most impact on CIMT.
According to her, the children with triglycerides over 100 mg/dL were most likely to have an advanced vascular age, for 38 kids with high triglycerides were found to have a CIMT above the 25th percentile for 45-year-olds.
"Vascular age was advanced the furthest in the children with obesity and high triglyceride levels, so the combination of obesity and high triglycerides should be a red flag to the doctor that a child is at high risk of heart disease," the researcher said.
Geetha stressed the need for further studies to understand whether artery build-up can decrease if children lose weight, exercise, or are treated for abnormal lipids.
She appeared optimistic because some studies have already shown that CIMT can be reduced when children at extremely high risk are treated with cholesterol-lowering statin medications, and that exercise can improve blood vessel function in children with a high BMI.
"In children, the build-up in the vessels is not hardened and calcified. We can improve the vessel walls and blood flow in adults through treatment, and I'm sure we can help children even more," she said.
High blood pressure, exposure to second-hand smoke, and insulin resistance were reported to be the other risk factors for high CIMT in obese children.