Heart disease risk factors in childhood predicts likelihood of atherosclerosis as adults

-- As early as age 9, children who had the most heart disease risk factors had an increased risk of having thicker carotid artery walls, an early heart disease indicator

Measuring heart disease risk factors in children at or after age 9 helped predict the likelihood of atherosclerosis in adulthood, according to a study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Atherosclerosis is a slow build-up of plaque in the inner lining of the arteries, and it often starts in childhood.

In the study, researchers investigated at what age childhood heart disease risk factors had the most influence on adult carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT), a marker that may indicate early atherosclerosis. The carotid artery supplies oxygenated blood to the head and neck, and its thickness is measured using non-invasive ultrasound.

Researchers pooled data of 4,380 participants in four similar studies that included heart disease risk factors in children and IMT measurements in adulthood.

As early as age 9, children who had the most heart disease risk factors — high levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and greater body mass index — had a 37 percent increased risk of elevated adult IMT compared to all other children.

By age 12, children in the highest heart disease risk factor group had a 48 percent increased risk of elevated adult IMT. The risk rose to 56 percent at age 15.

The study suggests that an emphasis on a heart-healthy lifestyle must begin in childhood, said Markus Juonala, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and adjunct professor at Turku University Hospital in Turku, Finland.

"Doctors should know that, based on this assessment, cardiovascular risk assessment is beneficial after age 9," Juonala said. "Public health officials should take note that more policies are needed to fight obesity, as all the risk factors that we investigated are obesity-related."


American Heart Association


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