By the age of 17, most obese teens have already developed significant risk factors for heart disease, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Known as the Teen Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (Teen-LABS), this study included 242 obese teens undergoing weight loss surgery between 2007 and 2011. On average, study participants were 17 years old and considered “super obese”—the highest weight classification on the body mass index (BMI) scale. Before patients underwent surgery, researchers assessed their risk for heart disease, testing blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and a marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein.
After analyzing test results, researchers found that 74% of subjects had high blood sugar, 26% were pre-diabetic and 14% had full-blown diabetes. It’s well-known that overweight and obesity can lead to diabetes and findings are especially concerning, as diabetes drastically increases risk for heart disease and other serious health conditions.
Additionally, half of all patients had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both conditions being more common in boys than girls. Three out of four patients had high C-reactive protein levels, which is linked to increased risk for heart attack and stroke. And not surprisingly, the more teens weighed the greater their likelihood of having risk factors like high blood pressure and pre-diabetes.
As authors explain, this study highlights the importance of diagnosing and treating cardiovascular risk factors early in life. Findings suggest it’s more than likely that severely obese children and teens have already developed risk factors for heart disease, which could impact their health now and in the future. Although weight loss can help reverse certain risk factors, monitoring and treating risk factors early may reduce risk for serious complications later in life.
However, it’s important to remember that prevention is always the best medicine. Helping children and teens maintain a healthy weight through exercise and a healthy diet helps set them up for a healthier future. When necessary, it’s better to address unhealthy weight gain before children become significantly overweight or obese in order to prevent negative health consequences.