Being overweight may alter teens' heart structures

A British study found thickened blood vessel walls and enlarged heart valves—warning signs of adult heart disease—in teenagers with excess body weight.
By Rick Docksai | Sep 26, 2018
Excess body weight can damage teenagers' hearts and elevate their risk of heart disease, says a new UK study. The study authors said that examinations of thousands of overweight teenagers revealed heart-tissue alterations that doctors usually only see in older adults.

The researchers, led by epidemiology research associate Kaitlin Wade of the University of Bristol Medical School, analyzed data from nearly 14,000 Bristol healthy youths ages 17 to 21. The youths were participants in the Children of the 90s study, which has been monitoring their health since they were born.

Teens whose Body Mass Index (BMI) surpassed healthy levels tended to show higher blood pressure, thickening of blood-vessel walls, and enlargement of the heart's main chamber, the left ventricle. Doctors consider thickened blood-vessel walls an early warning sign of cardiovascular problems in adults.

All of the physiological changes that the overweight youths showed can lead to greater likelihood of heart disease, however, according to Wade. She added that the study's findings "support efforts to reduce BMI to within a normal, healthy range from a young age" to minimize the risks.

Wade and fellow researchers next want to assess adults in their 70s and see if they exhibit the same relationship between body weight and heart health. The researchers also want to look for possible correlations between higher BMI and other factors, such as the diversity of microbes in the gut.

Other studies have suggested that excess body weight can affect the heart and other organs at a young age. Researchers in Cincinnati, for example, published a study last year describing signs of organ damage in teens with high blood pressure.

"It can be a common misconception that heart related issues only affect an older demographic, which we know isn't the case," said Ashleigh Doggett, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation.

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