Overweight children have impaired cardiovascular autonomic regulation, report researchers in Heart.
The 103 boys in the study were aged an average of 11 years and were all in a soccer club, so all participated in relatively intensive sports training. Yet autonomic changes were apparent in the 11 boys who were overweight.
This indicates that sports participation alone is not sufficient to counteract the physiologic effects of being overweight, say Daniela Lucini (Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy) and team. The researchers found only a marginal difference in the two groups' physical activity beyond soccer training, so they suggest that diet may play an important part in determining the children's bodyweight.
"Sport should be combined with education on other life health issues, particularly regarding nutrition, on the basis that soccer training per se is not sufficient to fully protect from overweight," they say.
The overweight children had higher systolic arterial pressure (SAP) than the lean children, at 113 versus 100 mmHg, putting them at around the 66th and the 40th percentiles, respectively. The low frequency component of SAP, which indicates vasomotor sympathetic regulation, was significantly increased in overweight versus lean children, at 12.3 versus 4.5 mmHg2, while two measures of spontaneous arterial baroreflex control of the RR interval, indicating cardiac vagal regulation, were significantly reduced.
Most of these measures correlated significantly with bodyweight, body mass index, and waist circumference.
"These autonomic changes are… forerunners of increased cardiovascular risk profile in a wide range of conditions, including hypertension, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease," say Lucini et al. "Studies on children thus provide a unique window on the beginnings of a lifelong history of changes in cardiovascular autonomic regulation."
But the team notes that these changes "can be detected with simple non-invasive measurements that could be considered for inclusion in the yearly health screening as a guide to individual prevention."
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