It is well known that obesity in all age groups is associated with increased cardiovascular risk.  However, for people who struggle with obesity in childhood but become normal weight in adulthood, it has not been clear whether the risk factors accrued in childhood extends to an increased risk in adulthood. A new study suggests that for these people who achieve a normal body weight in adulthood following childhood obesity, several risk factors for cardiovascular disease are no longer elevated, and are similar to the cardiovascular risk factors of people who were never obese.

The study, published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed data from over 6,000 people in USA, Australia, and Finland, followed for an average of 23 years. They evaluated several cardiovascular risk factors, including cholesterol profiles, blood pressure, presence of diabetes, and thickness of the wall of the carotid artery (which is a marker for cardiovascular disease), and looked at how these risk factors varied depending on whether individuals were overweight or obese in childhood and/or adulthood.

They found that for people who were obese in childhood and adulthood, the risk of having each of these risk factors for heart disease was several fold higher than for people who were normal weight in childhood and in adulthood.

Importantly, they also found that for people who were obese in childhood but normal body weight in adulthood, their risk factors in adulthood were no different than for people who were never obese.

While the ideal management of childhood obesity is prevention on a societal level, the treatment of obesity in childhood is clearly crucial as well.  This study lends strong support to the importance of treating childhood obesity, as improving body weight towards a normal BMI reduces cardiovascular risk.

Dr Sue Pedersen © 2011

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