Childhood obesity has increased across the globe in recent years, but little research has examined underlying health conditions that may affect severely obese children.
"Encourage regular exercise in children."
Nathalie van Emmerik, a lead researcher from EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, found that severely obese children, some as young as 2-years-old, already suffered from at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
During the 2-year prospective study that began in 2005, pediatricians were asked to report all cases of severe obesity in children between the ages of 2 and 18 to the Dutch Pediatric Surveillance Unit. Severe obesity was defined as a body mass index of 20.5 for a 2-year-old, 21 for a 12-year-old and 35 for an 18-year-old.
Doctors completed questionnaires for severely obese children, listing socio-economic and cardiovascular risk factors that were found during an examination.
During the study, pediatricians reported 500 new cases of severely obese children. Only one of the children included was found to be obese from a medical condition, rather than lifestyle factors.
Of those children, 67 percent had at least one risk factor for heart disease, most commonly elevated fasting blood glucose, which could lead to type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure. Investigators found that 56 percent of the children had hypertension, while 54 percent had low "good" HDL cholesterol.
Among severely obese children over the age of 12, researchers found that 62 percent already had one or more cardiovascular disease risk factors. About a third of severely obese children were found to live in one parent households.
Researchers said the high prevalence of hypertension and abnormal lipids was particularly troubling since it may lead to cardiovascular disease in young adulthood.
The study was recently published in journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.