Hardening of the arteries can start in kids, says study

·Contributing Writer

The worldwide childhood obesity epidemic has lead to all manner of well-intentioned members of the medical community scrambling for answers.

One thing that is known for certain, however, is that obesity can cause stiffening of arteries and is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

But now a recent study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center suggests that healthy kids as young as 10-years-old can have stiffening of the arteries, increasing their chances of heart attack and stroke later in life.

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In adults, stiffening of arteries typically arises from a combination of aging and the cumulative impact of high blood pressure and high cholesterol over decades, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Yet researchers were surprised to see these effects in kids despite not having years of risk factors.

The study -- which examined 900 children and young adults aged 10-26 over a four year period -- found that about one-third of the seemingly healthy kids had stiff arteries.

"We are demonstrating vascular changes in supposedly healthy adolescents," says lead researcher and cardiologist Elaine Urbina, whose study was published in the April issue of Pediatrics. "Stiff vessels make your heart work harder. It isn't good for you."

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Stiff arteries in children is a sign of "accelerated aging" and likely raises the risk of life-threatening cardiovascular events early in adult life, Dr. Urbina says.

The researchers suggest the stiff arteries in the children were caused by a high triglycerides-to-HDL (good cholesterol) ratio. "The good news is that lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, more exercise, and a healthier diet, can dramatically reverse children’s cardiovascular risks if they’re caught early,” says Dr. Urbina.

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