Obese children have aortic stiffness on par with older adults who have cardiovascular disease, according to new evidence presented today at the Canadian Cardiovascular Conference in Montreal.

Researchers from BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, measured blood pressure, lipid levels and BMI among obese (n=63) and normal weight (n=55) adolescents (mean age 13 years) and performed echocardiography to evaluate their heart and blood vessels.

“Our study shows that obese children already have evidence of cardiovascular disease,” study researcher and pediatrician, Kevin Harris, MD, told The Clinical Advisor.

Although systolic BP was only marginally higher in obese children (114 vs. 107 mm Hg; P<.001), and HDL and LDL cholesterol levels were normal for both groups, ultrasound findings revealed premature aortic aging among children in the obese group.

Several measures of arterial health including aortic pulse wave velocity (590 vs. 351 cm/sec; P<.001), arterial pressure strain elastic modulus (303 vs. 248 mm Hg; P<.001), arterial wall stiffness index  (3.59 vs. 2.98; P<.001), and peak aortic velocity (122 vs. 105 ms; P<.001) were higher among obese children.

“Finding aortic stiffness in children is concerning,” Harris said, adding that lifestyle interventions should be the cornerstone of therapy. “Increasing regular physical activity and improving diet are the best ways to tackle these issues.”

Although it is well understood that aortic stiffness and hypertension in adults are risk factors for early cardiovascular events including heart attack and stroke, less is known about how developing these problems in childhood translates into cardiovascular outcomes in adulthood.

Determining whether these correlations exist, and if diet and exercise can reverse arterial stiffness in children need to be studied further.