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Just baby fat? Obese toddlers may show signs of future heart disease

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That chubby baby is cute. But an obese 3-year-old may already be in danger.

Their bodies are showing signs of inflammation that are similar to those seen in heart disease later in life, says new research published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. Specifically, nearly a third – 30 percent – of obese 3- to 5-year-olds had higher levels of C-reactive protein than children of the same age who were a healthy weight. In those kids, only 17% showed the higher levels.

"It's really important to be concerned about childhood obesity and to even be concerned when they are quite young," Asheley Skinner, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the first author of the study, told the Wall Street Jornal. "We can't wait until they're adolescents or adults."

The rate of obesity in U.S. children is growing along with that of adults. Fourteen percent of 2-to-5-year-olds are now considered overweight, or at the 85th percentile or higher of weight for height in their age group.

The American Heart Association says that C-reactive protein, or CRP, can help
predict risk of heart disease, stroke and death. Earlier studies have shown that the protein is elevated in overweight and obese adults, but less has been known about CRP in children.

In the research, more than 16,000 children between the ages of 1 and 17 were studied for three markers that inflammation, including CRP. By ages 15 to 17, CRP was elevated in about 60% of obese teens, compared with 18% of teens of healthy weight. The increase was even more pronounced for very obese kids, with nearly 43% of young children and 83% of teens showing CRP elevation.

From BBC news:

CRP is found in the blood, and high levels are a sign of inflammation in the body.
Because the damage seen in heart disease is caused by inflammation in artery walls, CRP can be used as a general marker for the risk of heart disease. In adults, studies have linked high levels with a future risk of heart attacks.

The researchers also looked at two other markers of inflammation in obese children and found levels were higher in one from the age of 6 and the other from the age of 9.

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Great article! The chubby baby is definitely cute because we know that infants really can't have much more than breast milk or formula and if they are growing, then they're healthy--they aren't very mobile at that age anyway. However, a three year old can basically eat anything a grown-up can and should certainly be on the run all the time. That's where chubby stops being so cute and more of a "what are you feeding your child?" question. Kids will cry, beg, and plea when they want ice cream or soda for breakfast but it is our job as parents to determine what's worse-- giving my kid junk food just to stop the crying or letting him cry and ultimately save him/her from a lifetime of health issues?

Kids will be kids and they all love cake, ice cream, chips, and candy-- and that's okay. But if we don't teach our kids that there needs to be balance and that these things should not be eaten to replace food then who will?

Thanks for posting Diane, I think we definitely need more awareness about our childrens expanding waists!

March 2, 2010 - 12:51pm
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