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Heart Health

13 May 2020

Blood vessels of obese teens age prematurely

An expert says that obesity in teenagers needs to be treated vigorously because it has the same increased risk for premature ageing of the blood vessels as diabetes.

Obesity, type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure increase teens' risk of premature blood vessel ageing, a new study finds.

"Our study demonstrates that the slow changes in blood vessels that lead to the development of atherosclerosis [narrowing of the arteries] begins early in life," said lead author Justin Ryder. He's an assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, in Minneapolis.

The study included 141 teens with normal weight, 156 obese teens, and 151 teens with type 2 diabetes who were followed for five years. The teens' average age was nearly 18 when the study began.

After five years, the teens with either obesity, type 2 diabetes or high systolic blood pressure were much more likely to have thicker and stiffer carotid arteries than teens with normal weight. The carotid artery is the main blood vessel that leads to the brain.

Obesity needs to be tackled

Obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are major risk factors for heart attack and stroke later in life, noted the study authors. The findings were published on 6 May in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

"Having obesity, type 2 diabetes or high systolic blood pressure were each independently associated with and equally predictive of having thicker and stiffer arteries among this group of young people," Ryder said in a journal news release.

"What surprised our team the most was that participants with higher systolic blood pressure compared to their peers in the study had a very similar risk as those with obesity or type 2 diabetes for thicker and stiffer blood vessels over time," he added. (Systolic blood pressure is the first number in a blood pressure reading.)

Ryder said obesity needs to be tackled seriously.

"Although type 2 diabetes is treated aggressively in the US, obesity needs to be treated just as vigorously because it has the same increased risk for premature ageing of the blood vessels, which is an early sign of cardiovascular dysfunction and a precursor to cardiovascular diseases in adulthood," he said.

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