Being mildly overweight as a teenager ‘raises the risk of heart failure in later life’, find scientists amid worldwide childhood obesity crisis
- Over one million men had their health assessed from the age of 18 onwards
- Even those who just tipped ‘normal’ BMI were at risk of a heart condition
- Obese teens were eight times more likely to develop one compared to lean men
- Researchers said the findings could be applied on a global scale
Being mildly overweight as a teenager raises the risk of heart failure in adulthood, scientists have once again found.
Scientists tracked 1.6million men for nearly five decades to examine the dangers of carrying extra weight in adolescence.
They found those who were even mildly overweight when they were 18 were more likely develop cardiomyopathy in later life.
The Swedish researchers warned the risk of the condition, which can lead to heart failure, was highest for the fattest teenagers.
The findings come amid a worldwide childhood obesity crisis, with figures showing there are 340million youngsters who are overweight or obese.
Being mildly overweight as a teenager raises the risk of heart failure in adulthood, scientists in Sweden find
Obesity is known to be a risk factor for a multitude of health problems including heart disease.
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg were looking mainly to see if teenage obesity raised the risk of cardiomyopathy.
It is the general term for diseases of the heart muscle, which can make it harder for the organ to pump blood around the body.
Men who enlisted in compulsory military service between 1969 and 2005, when they were 18 or 19 years old, were analysed.
Researchers recorded figures on their height, weight and overall fitness.
They also used two other national databases that track the causes of all deaths and hospitalisations to see if any men developed heart disease.
Among the men in the study, 4,477 were diagnosed with cardiomyopathy at an average age of 45.5.
The men who at age 18 had a body mass index (BMI) below 20 had a low risk of going on to develop cardiomyopathy.
But the risk steadily increased as weight increased, according to the findings that were published in the journal Circulation.
Men who had a BMI of 35 and over – considered obese – were eight times more likely to develop dilated cardiomyopathy as adults.
WHAT IS CARDIOMYOPATHY?
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that affects its size, shape and structure.
The condition is usually inherited.
The three main types of cardiomyopathy are:
- Hypertrophic – heart wall is thickened
- Dilated – heart muscle becomes stretched and thin
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricular – heart muscle cells cannot be kept together
All of these types of cardiomyopathy affect the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body efficiently.
They can also impact the way electrical signals make the organ beat.
There is no cure, however, in most cases people’s quality or length of life is unaffected.
Therapies may include medication, treatment to normalise heart rhythm, pacemakers and, in rare cases, heart surgery or transplants.
Source: British Heart Foundation
Dilated cardiomyopathy is one form of the disease when the heart muscle becomes weak and can’t pump blood efficiently.
It wasn’t possible to estimate an increased risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in men with a BMI of 35 or above because there were too few cases.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is when the heart muscle becomes stiff and isn’t able to fill with blood properly.
The researchers expect the results to apply to men throughout the world, as levels of obesity are ‘disturbingly high’ in many high income countries.
The authors wrote: ‘Given the overall increase in body weight in young people globally, physicians need to be aware of an increased risk for cardiomyopathy.
‘The already marked importance of weight control in youth is further strengthened by these findings.’
But Professor Annika Rosengren, a cardiologist and author of the study, warned the findings may or may not translate to women.
She said: ‘The data on weight was gathered when males in Sweden register for compulsory military service.
‘Since women do not register for military service, data on women’s weight at around age 18 was not available to the researchers.’
Heart failure caused by cardiomyopathies doubled in Sweden between 1987 and 2006, the researchers noted.
Often the cause of the cardiomyopathy is unknown, however, in some people it’s the result of another condition or inherited.
Contributing factors include metabolic conditions, such as obesity, drug use, high blood pressure and drinking too much alcohol.
It affects around one in 500 people in the UK and US, according to charities.
Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, according to the World Health Organization.
Health chiefs have long been trying to crack down on childhood obesity rates, considering children who are obese are put at a higher risk of heart conditions and diabetes at a younger age than normal.
Obese youngsters are likely to stay obese into adulthood, where long-term health problems include cancer.
WHAT IS THE CHILDHOOD OBESITY EPIDEMIC?
Childhood obesity is deemed as one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.
What are the statistics?
The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 has risen dramatically from just four per cent in 1975 to just over 18 per cent in 2016.
NHS figures mirror worldwide stats – the proportion of children who are severely obese in England has risen by more than a third since 2007.
It is now at 4.2 per cent, the highest ever level – 24,437 children in England fall into the fattest possible category. As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.
Why is it a problem?
Raised BMI is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints and some cancers.
The risk for these noncommunicable diseases increases, with increases in BMI.
Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. But as a child, they are likely to experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.
What is being done to prevent it?
The prevention of childhood obesity is a high priority but is a difficult challenge.
While individuals are responsible for their calorie, fat, salt and sugar intake, as well as how much physical activity they do, Governments have had to step in to regulate the food industry, too.
Manufacturers can reduce the content of fat, sugar and in processed foods, ensuring that healthy and nutritious choices are available and affordable, and restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods to young people.
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